Playing against teams like North Texas with potent offenses means there is little room for error, especially when it comes to finishing drives with points.
Liberty was able to piece together multiple drives into North Texas territory in the first three quarters Saturday night. In a scene that unfolded similarly to how the loss at Army played out two weeks ago, the Flames failed to capitalize when they had scoring opportunities.
Those missed scoring opportunities, especially in the first half, came back to haunt the Flames. North Texas used a dominating running attack in the second half to pull away for a 47-7 victory on a soggy Saturday evening at Williams Stadium.
“We had our opportunities,” Liberty coach Turner Gill said, “just unfortunately, offensively, we were out-of-sync.”
Saturday’s game was delayed twice by lightning. The start was delayed by 42 minutes and another strike forced a temporary suspension for 53 minutes in the third quarter.
The Flames (1-2) were able to sustain the first drive after the third-quarter delay and reached the UNT 15-yard line. However, Aaron Peart’s 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right, and the missed opportunity highlighted the Flames’ woes against the Mean Green (4-0).
The Flames advanced to midfield or into UNT territory six times, and two other drives ended at LU’s 48- and 49-yard lines.
Those drives resulted in one touchdown, a missed field goal, four punts, an interception and a turnover on downs.
“Mental errors,” Liberty quarterback Buckshot Calvert said, “a lot of them coming from every position, honestly.”
The Mean Green did not have those problems, especially in the second half following the second delay.
UNT scored on four consecutive possessions with touchdown runs from Loren Easly, DeAndre Torrey and Nic Smith. Easly, who rushed for a career-high 177 yards on 27 carries, scored on runs of 9 and 3 yards. Torrey scored on a 1-yard plunge and Smith added a 66-yard scamper.
The Mean Green rushed for 271 of their 346 yards in the second half. They averaged 10 yards per carry in the second 30 minutes.
“It takes a lot out of you knowing the coaches give you the right calls, it’s just guys have to get the proper fits and stuff,” Liberty senior defensive end Juwan Wells said after posting nine tackles, three tackles for a loss and a half sack. “As a whole defense, we’ve got to step up to the plate. Even though we had a weather delay, we can’t come out in the second half and be soft like that on the first drive.”
UNT quarterback Mason Fine did considerable damage in the first half by accounting for three touchdowns to help the Mean Green take a 21-7 halftime lead.
Fine connected on touchdown passes of 6 and 22 yards to Jaelon Darden and Rico Bussey, respectively, to help the Mean Green race out to a 14-0 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Fine threw for 157 of his 185 yards in the first half. He also added a 4-yard touchdown run with 12 seconds remaining in the first half.
“They’re a great offense, great team. We knew that keeping them to 21 points in the first half was really good,” said Liberty senior cornerback Jeremy Peters, tied Wells with nine tackles and added a forced fumble. “We just had to come out in the second half and keep it going. We just didn’t execute in the second half, and that’s what happened.”
The Flames were nearly even with the Mean Green in total offense at the time of the game’s suspension (263 to 243 in favor of UNT), but an interception inside the 5-yard line and a turnover on downs in UNT territory prevented Liberty from adding more points to its tally in the opening 30 minutes.
The Flames got on the scoreboard thanks to a quick, four-play drive that finished with B.J. Farrow’s one-handed 4-yard touchdown reception with 7:30 remaining in the first half that cut North Texas’ lead to 14-7.
Calvert connected with Antonio Gandy-Golden for 30 yards and found Farrow down the left sideline for 37 yards to quickly get to the UNT 5-yard line.
The Flames’ first scoring opportunity came early in the second quarter when they reached the UNT 8-yard line.
Calvert targeted Farrow on an inside slant route that would have netted a touchdown, but safety Khairi Muhammad came up with a spectacular interception at the 2-yard line and returned it 20 yards.
It was Muhammad’s third interception in the last two games.
“Really that’s on me, because we’ve been practicing all week, I got to put more touch so I can get it over the linebacker’s head,” Calvert said of the interception. “That’s just what happened. He made a nice jumping play. He made a nice play.”
Calvert completed 16 of 39 passes for 222 yards.
Frankie Hickson, seeing extended playing time after being limited two weeks ago at Army, rushed for 96 yards on 21 attempts.
“It always feels good to get into a rhythm; that’s what running backs to want,” Hickson said. “They want to have a chance to work with the O-line and be able to read the defense and get a rhythm. All respect to North Texas; they came out and they played, they fought and they were the better team. This offense can do better.”
DJ Stubbs caught six passes for 95 yards. Gandy-Golden finished with 51 receiving yards.