After allowing a 95-yard touchdown drive on UNLV's opening possession, the North Texas defense buckled down. The Mean Green's offense also stepped up, and they beat the Rebels 36-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. North Texas went on a 28-0 run until Jerry Rice Jr. corralled a 13-yard score with 4:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.
UNLV couldn't get anything going in the running game, averaging just 2.4 yards on 27 attempts. The Mean Green dared Rebels quarterback Caleb Herring to beat them. He was an efficient -- but not a game-changing -- passer this season, and he couldn't find many openings in the North Texas secondary.
The victory gives the Mean Green nine wins for the first time in 10 seasons. It was also their first bowl win since a 24-19 victory over Cincinnati in the 2002 New Orleans Bowl. It's been a slow build for former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney, who went 6-2 in the school's debut campaign in C-USA. North Texas won six of its last seven games before the Heart of Dallas Bowl, including a 42-10 statement win over Tulsa in the final week of the regular season.
Senior quarterback Derek Thompson completed 21-of-30 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns, and he came back in the game after suffering what appeared to be a leg injury in the first half. His return seemed to spark the Mean Green.
It's not exactly a consolation prize to finish the season on a losing note, but the fact that UNLV played in a bowl at all shouldn't be overlooked. The Rebels won two games in each of the past three seasons and hadn't been to a bowl since 2000.