By Craig Fields
The North Texas Mean Green (4-7) only gained 266 yards, and that was still enough to beat the Golden Panthers of Florida International by a score of 17-14. The murky and rainy weather definitely helped to dictate the fluidity with which these two teams were able to move the football. Things really slowed down in the second half as neither team was able to do much in the way of offense.
Senior night was the theme of the night in more ways than one as three North Texas seniors had huge performances en route to the victory. Reggie Pegram, Derek Akunne, and James Jones all had big nights affecting both sides of the ball in a game that meant more to the Mean Green than their 4-7 record would indicate.
Pegram rushed the ball 26 times for 126 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came on the second play of the game when Pegram burst through the line untouched on his way to a 54-yard touchdown. He was a pretty steady force all day long and did not turn the ball over once.
Speaking of turnovers, there were quite a few. Overall this was a sloppy game on behalf of both teams. Golden Panthers true freshman quarterback Alex McGough had three interceptions and the offense could not score one point against the defense. Mean Green quarterback Andrew McNulty had two interceptions as well; one that was returned for a touchdown. Neither quarterback could seem to throw the 7 to 15 yard out route pass in front of their receivers.
The Golden Panthers also fumbled three times but managed to recover the ball every time. Senior Derek Akunne forced one of those fumbles after a punishing laying a punishing hit on the quarterback. He led everyone on the defense with nine tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble. Akunne provided the fire necessary to carry his team to victory.
Senior James Jones was also important in this one as he had three tackles and an important interception that he managed to come down with in the endzone. The Golden Panthers were marching down the field and were going to either score a touchdown or field goal. That interception changed the entire dynamic of the game and prevented a sure score in the fourth quarter.
Coach McCarney was very proud of his guys. An emotional coach, Pegram, and Jones took some questions from the media together after the game. Any reporter worth his salt could feel the realness of the situation and could appreciate the determination and heart that those guys put on display in that football game.
“Our defense gave up no points,” coach McCarney said. “ZERO points. Does it get much better than that? I gave [John Skladany] a game ball in the locker room, so that was pretty cool stuff.”
John Skladany, the defensive coordinator for the Mean Green, coached his last home game Saturday. He will be retiring at the end of the season, and the team wanted to send him off the right way. Under Coach McCarney and Skladany, the Mean Green have a 16-7 record at home at the new Apogee stadium. They have maintained a winning record and have started a winning tradition at home over the past four years. That meant a lot to the players and coaches.
“These guys, the rest of their lives, can go on for the rest of their lives and say, ‘I was never part of a season at Apogee Stadium. When we went out at that stadium, we won.’” coach McCarney said. “ That’s a great legacy, a great tradition these guys have built the right way.”
Coach McCarney and John Skladany have been through the fire and in the trenches together since their days at Iowa State. This was definitely the way to go out and say goodbye to the Mean Green faithful.
North Texas has one more game this season. They will play the UTSA Roadrunners on the 29th at 12:00 p.m. Tune in to watch the last game of defensive coordinator Skladany as a chapter of Mean Green football and an era comes to a close.