190928_drc_sp_UNT v. UH FBall_08

North Texas quarterback Mason Fine (6) passes to running back Tre Siggers (15) for a second down during the first quarter of Saturday’s game against the University of Houston at Apogee Stadium.

Houston is quickly developing a reputation for ruining milestone events in North Texas history.

The Cougars clocked the Mean Green in the first game in the history of Apogee Stadium in 2011 and were back at it again on Saturday.

Houston’s defense shut down UNT’s high scoring offense and the Cougars showed a whole lot of fight after a tough week while rolling past the Mean Green 46-25.

A crowd of 30,123, the largest in the history of Apogee, turned up hoping to see UNT (2-3) post a milestone win over the Cougars, who came into the day at far less than full strength.

Houston quarterback D’Eriq King and wide receiver Keith Corbin announced earlier in the week that they would sit out the remainder of the season after the Cougars got off to a surprising 1-3 start.

The question heading into the night was how Houston would respond without two of their top players who plan to redshirt and return in 2020.

The Cougars (2-3) came through in a big way in their first game at Apogee since 2011, when they knocked off UNT 48-23 to spoil the Mean Green’s first game in the venue.

Houston didn’t have two of its biggest weapons in King and Corbin but had more than enough firepower to race past the Mean Green.

“It’s always tough to swallow losing, especially with some of the catastrophic mistakes we had tonight,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “It’s starts with me and my coaches, but there is plenty of blame to go around the room. We made too many mistakes to beat a really good football team like that.”

Houston capitalized behind running back Patrick Carr, their defense and quarterback Clayton Tune.

Carr rushed for 139 yards and three touchdowns. Tune, the younger brother of former UNT quarterback Nathan Tune, made his first start of the year in place of King.

Tune threw for 124 yards, rushed for 100 yards and did more than enough on a night Houston’s defense came through when it mattered to secure the win.

"Give credit to Houston," UNT wide receiver Michael Lawrence said. "They played a great game tonight. It's one of those things where if one man goes down, another has to step up and do his job. They did a really good job of that tonight."

UNT quarterback Mason Fine threw for 353 yards. That just wasn’t enough.

"It came down to shooting ourselves in the foot," Fine said. "It seemed like every play there was one guy who didn't get the signal or busted. We have to clean that up."

The loss left the Mean Green without the big regular season nonconference win they came into the year hoping for in a season filled with high expectations.

UNT lost to rival SMU and also fell at Cal.

The Mean Green will now turn their attention to the Conference USA season and their goal to contend for the conference title.

UNT was picked to win the league’s West Division in the preseason media poll and got off to a good start by knocking off UTSA in its league opener last week.

The Mean Green will look to pick up where they left off in two weeks at Southern Miss.

UNT will have plenty of issues to address heading as it resumes C-USA play.

Getting off to a better start will be among the biggest.

The Mean Green has struggled to get off to good starts this season, a trend that continued in their loss to Houston.

The Cougars defense set the tone in the first half, holding the Mean Green’s high scoring offense out of the end zone.

The Cougars capitalized while running out to 17-6 halftime lead.

Carr broke free for a 68-yard touchdown run on the Cougars’ third play from scrimmage, the first volley in an offensive onslaught. Houston scored on its first three possessions. 

UNT came into the game having not allowed a touchdown in seven straight quarters, a run that started after the first quarter of the Mean Green’s loss to Cal two weeks ago. Houston ended that run in a hurry.

"Those first two drives it was one guy who messed up," UNT safety Khairi Muhammad said. "It was that way on all their explosive plays. We have to clean that up."

The Cougars’ defense handled the rest.

UNT settled for a pair of Ethan Mooney field goals in the first half, including a 46-yarder at the halftime gun.

Houston scored twice in the third quarter. UNT answered each time.

Tre Siggers scored on a 4-yard run before Jyarie Shorter hauled in a 33-yard strike from Mason Fine. UNT went for the 2-point conversion after both scores but was turned back by Houston’s defense.

The Mean Green needed a whole lot more on a night they struggled to contain Houston on special teams.

Marquez Stevenson returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown after UNT pulled within 24-12.

The Cougars came up with another big special teams play when Bryson Smith returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown. Tune hit Stevenson in the corner of the end zone for a 2-point conversion that put Houston up 39-18 early in the fourth quarter.

UNT couldn’t recover as the stands emptied at Apogee on a night the Cougars handed UNT another tough loss on its home field.

“It’s a tough one,” Fine said. “There was a little more build-up and publicity to it. We didn’t put extra pressure on ourselves. We were mentally locked in like any other game. You have to give Houston credit.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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