The North Texas football team led until midway through the third quarter against one of the nation’s best quarterbacks but in the end was unable to keep Malik Willis and Liberty at bay in a 35-26 loss to Liberty on Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
Willis, who’s a projected first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft, left the game in the second quarter with a foot injury and was taken for imaging before returning midway through the third quarter and finishing the game with 222 passing yards and three touchdowns while making a couple of highlight-reel escapes on a key drive when Liberty led the game 28-26. The first of those plays was when Willis appeared to be wrapped up in the end zone for a game-tying safety but he threw the ball over his head while facing out of the end zone to get rid of the ball for an incompletion. Later on the drive he was being pressured and flung the ball backhanded for a first-down completion.
“He made a couple of unbelievable plays and dug himself out of getting that safety,” UNT head coach Seth Littrell said. “That would have changed the momentum. He had a nice play to, I guess, get rid of the ball. He made another one on a scramble. We didn’t make enough plays to win a game. I’m proud of our energy and I thought we had a great week of prep. We just have to keep building on what we’re doing well and find a way to make some plays.”
The Mean Green defense did manage to get good pressure on Liberty throughout the game, finishing with a season-high six sacks, which also matched the season-high sacks allowed for the Flames (6-2). North Texas (1-6, 0-3 C-USA) was led in that department by Grayson Murphy, who had a career-high 2.5 sacks.
With just under two minutes to play in the first half, North Texas took a 20-7 lead after the second of two straight short field goals from Aaron Beckham, who had the first attempts of his career in the absence of starting kicker Ethan Mooney. The Mean Green took a 7-0 lead on their second possession of the game after an interception at the Liberty 1-yard line ended their opening drive of the day.
“It started much better,” Littrell said, referring to recent bad starts. “We got a drive together but we didn’t finish it off down there. We got some good field position after our defense stepped up for a three-and-out. It was nice to get on the board first and get on the board early.”
But Liberty was able to find the end zone before the end of the half by going 90 yards in 35 seconds to pull within six points at the half. With 3:03 left in the third quarter, the Flames grabbed their first lead after a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown from Demario Douglas on UNT’s first punt of the day.
Liberty never trailed again despite a nice rushing day from the Mean Green, who ran for 242 yards while out-gaining Liberty 454-351. UNT was led on the ground by freshman Ayo Adeyi, who had a career-high 99 yards. Senior DeAndre Torrey finished with 73 yards, and sophomore quarterback Austin Aune tied a career-high with 56 rushing yards.
“The work we’ve put in – we challenged our guys and told them we’d have to run the ball to have success and they did a great job and have been working extremely hard at it,” Littrell said. “I thought we had a decent game rushing the ball overall.”
North Texas will hit the road next week to play Rice at 1 p.m., Saturday, at Rice Stadium.
Courtesy UNT Football