KD Davis has seemingly done it all over the course of five seasons at North Texas.
He has earned all-conference honors while carving out a claim to being one of the best players in program history.
The senior linebacker picked the perfect time to fill the one last hole on his resume Saturday in UNT’s regular-season finale against Rice. Davis cut in front of a deep ball over the middle from Rice quarterback AJ Padgett in the closing seconds and posted the first interception of his career to ice a 21-17 win over the Owls at Apogee Stadium.
UNT clinched a spot in the Conference USA title game with the win. The Mean Green will face UTSA on Dec. 2 at the Alamodome.
“This week everyone was on me,” Davis said. “I picked a couple in practice and dropped two. The ball came my way. I knew I had to pick it. It was a great feeling. To do it in my last game at Apogee is a great way to go out.”
The interception was the finishing touch on a memorable late-season run by the Mean Green in their final year in C-USA before they jump to the American Athletic Conference this summer.
UNT (7-5, 6-2 C-USA) was 2-3 after falling to Memphis back in September.
The Mean Green won five of their last seven games to earn a spot in the C-USA championship game for the first time since 2017 and just the second time in their 10 years in the league.
“That is something we have been striving for,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “We have had the chance to play in one and have continued to fight, claw and scratch to get back. It’s a great accomplishment for this team. The exciting thing is the work is not done. We are excited to get to work this week and do the same for a bowl.”
UNT had to come up with a series of big plays in a game that was close into the final seconds to pull out the win over the Owls (5-7, 3-5).
The Mean Green trailed 17-14 in the fourth quarter after Christian VanSickle hit a 24-yard field goal.
UNT center Manase Mose, a sixth-year senior, came to Littrell on the sideline before the Mean Green took the field for the ensuing drive.
“Manase told me, ‘Let’s run the ball. Let’s go,’” Littrell said. “He put it on his back and the offensive line’s back.”
UNT ran the ball on the first seven plays of an eight-play, 75-yard drive that Austin Aune capped with a 6-yard touchdown strike to running back Ikaika Ragsdale that gave the Mean Green a 21-17 lead.
Ragsdale rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown and also led UNT with five catches for 59 yards and his touchdown. Aune threw for 203 yards and two scores, despite UNT keeping the ball on the ground for most of its game-winning drive at Mose’s request.
“Manase is our captain,” Ragsdale said. “What he says goes. If he says we are going to run the ball, we’re going to do it.”
Putting the game in the hands of its running game seemed like a bit of a risk considering the way the game had gone up until that point. Littrell said earlier in the week that Rice’s biggest strength is its defensive front.
The Owls gave UNT fits all day. The Mean Green had rushed for just 50 yards heading into its game-winning drive.
“We hadn’t been running the ball well all day,” Aune said. “The offensive line and backs did a great job on that last drive. They put the team on their back. I’m super proud of those guys. It’s an honor to play behind them.”
The way UNT ran the ball late helped the Mean Green pull out a game that was close the whole way.
UNT led by seven twice in the first half but wasn’t able to build on the lead and went into halftime in a 14-14 tie.
Aune found Jyaire Shorter deep for a 45-yard touchdown that put UNT up 7-0 early. Rice answered with a 1-yard Uriah West touchdown.
The Mean Green went back up on a 7-yard Ragsdale run. UNT had a chance to come up with a stop in the second quarter to protect the led but gave up a 21-yard pass from Padgett to Bradley Rozner on a third-and-3 play.
Braylen Walker beat UNT’s secondary deep for a 48-yard touchdown on the ensuing play. Rice took its only lead of the game when VanSickle connected on a 24-yard field goal put Rice up 17-14.
UNT had two paths to get into the C-USA title game heading into the day. The Mean Green needed to beat Rice or have Florida Atlantic beat Western Kentucky in a game that kicked off earlier in the day.
By that point WKU had pulled out an overtime win over FAU. UNT needed a win to get to the conference title game, and put its hopes on the shoulders of its running game.
“We continued to chop wood,” Littrell said. “Guys stepped up. The sideline was great. We continued to encourage one another. We stepped up and made plays when we had to.”
Ragsdale made one of the biggest when he scored the go-ahead touchdown.
UNT’s defense took care of the rest by stopping Rice on its last two drives. Davis became just the second player in program history with 400 tackles in UNT’s win over the Owls. He pushed his total to 407 with 13 stops against the Owls and joined Byron Gross in the 400-tackle club. Gross posted 418 in his Hall of Fame career.
What he’ll remember, though, is his interception that sealed the game and set off a huge celebration on the Mean Green’s sideline.
“It feels really good,” Aune said. “It was maybe a little closer than we wanted it to be, but we fought to the end. We wanted to win a conference championship. Now we have that opportunity.”