NEW ORLEANS - MARCH 16: A fan of the North Texas Mean Green cheers for the team over the Memphis Tigers during round one of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the New Orleans Arena on March 16, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Florida Atlantic gave up plenty of yardage, but came up with a pair of key defensive stops in the fourth quarter to hold off North Texas Saturday night in a wild shootout between Sun Belt Conference cellar dwellers.
Florida Atlantic won 44-40, handing North Texas its 14th consecutive conference loss and eighth defeat in a row at home.
The Owls (1-4, 1-1) stopped the Eagles (1-5, 0-3) on fourth down at their own 29 and then drove 71 yards, getting the deciding touchdown with 4:55 remaining on a 1-yard plunge from Alfred Morris. Morris ended the night with 147 yards on 29 carries and also had a 2-yard scoring run to key the Owls' first-half comeback from a 13-0 deficit.
Florida Atlantic made its final defensive stand with 3:08 to play when Lance Dunbar took a short pass and was tackled for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-7 at the North Texas 42.
"We would have liked to have won the game differently, but the way the game ended was fitting with the way we played," Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "This was exciting."
The loss spoiled a tremendous night by Dunbar, who ran for a career-high 238 yards and three touchdowns, his third consecutive 100-yard outing. Dunbar's 9-yard scamper up the middle gave North Texas a 40-37 lead early in the fourth quarter before Florida Atlantic mounted its second rally of the night.
Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith threw for 308 yards on 21-of-40 passing, while Chris Bonner led all receivers with six catches for 134 yards, including a 31-yard TD grab and a 50-yard catch to set up the game-winning score.
North Texas, which has lost three times after holding fourth-quarter leads, lost starting quarterback Riley Dodge midway through the second quarter when he re-injured his right ankle. Backup Nathan Tune was 13 of 17 for 129 yards.
"We get up, we get a lead, and then it seems like the wind comes out of our sail," Tune said.
Dunbar did his damage against an Owls defense that came into the game ranked 115th out of 120 teams against the run. It was the most yards for a North Texas back since 2004 and the seventh-best in school history.
The Eagles lost a pair of fumbles that led to 10 Owls points, and booted three kickoffs out of bounds in addition to missing an extra-point kick and having a PAT blocked.
"I'm proud of our team for coming in and fighting, but we made too many mistakes to win," North Texas coach Todd Dodge said.
North Texas jumped out to its 19-7 lead by scoring on its first three possessions before Florida Atlantic took control with 30 second-quarter points, the most in its nine-year history and more than the Owls had scored in a game this season.
Morris capped a short scoring march with a 2-yard dive to make it 19-14. The drive started at the North Texas 45-yard line when the Eagles were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after a long touchdown pass and then booted the kickoff out of bounds.