Derek Thompson and Brelan Chancellor were among the seniors who wanted North Texas' first bowl game in nine years to be close to family and friends.
They made a lot of green-clad fans very happy.
Thompson threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns, Chancellor scored twice and the Mean Green dominated the second half of a 36-14 victory over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Wednesday.
North Texas (9-4) pulled away from a 7-7 halftime tie for its first bowl win since New Orleans in 2002. The school's third postseason victory came in front of a strong turnout of 38,380 on a sunny day at the Cotton Bowl, just 45 miles from the Denton campus.
"It was so exciting running on the field and seeing a sea of green," said Thompson, who was 21 of 30 without an interception and voted the game's MVP. "We love our fans."
UNLV (7-6) drove 95 yards for a touchdown on its opening possession but didn't score again until the Mean Green were up 28-7 in the fourth quarter.
The Rebels lost in the postseason for the first time in the school's fourth bowl game and first since 2000 after coach Bobby Hauck won two games in each of his first three seasons.
"I told them I was proud of them and in particular our seniors for having turned the ship around," Hauck said. "We were not good when we all came together a few years ago."
Both of Chancellor's touchdown runs came in the fourth quarter. He also keyed the go-ahead scoring drive in the third with some nifty footwork on a first-down catch.
Chancellor had 121 yards combined -- 74 receiving and 47 rushing, including the scoring runs of 3 and 15 yards -- as the Mean Green finished with more wins in 2013 than the five years combined before coach Dan McCarney arrived last season.
"We sent a message that this is a program on the rise," said McCarney, a 36-year veteran coaching in the historic Fair Park venue for the first time. "I think we're a good example for other football teams that if you do things the right way, it can pay off."
Thompson threw a tiebreaking 7-yard touchdown pass to Drew Miller in the third quarter and put the Mean Green up 28-7 with a 34-yard scoring toss to Darnell Smith.
Chancellor kept the go-ahead drive alive by slipping past UNLV's Peni Vea along the sideline and staying inbounds for a 17-yard catch on third-and-16. The first of four third-down conversions on the drive came one play after North Texas was backed up by a late-hit penalty on guard Mason Y'Barbo.
"We're a second-half football team," Thompson said. "We've been that all year. We knew if we picked up the tempo that we could do some things and move the football."
Tim Cornett, UNLV's career rushing leader, was held to 33 yards -- 71 below his average and the same total as quarterback Caleb Herring, who threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
"Our yards per carry just weren't good enough and defensively, we weren't good enough on third down," Hauck said. "We got into some third-down situations where we had the upper hand and they converted."
Herring's second scoring toss was a 13-yarder to Jerry Rice Jr., the first career touchdown for the son of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in his final college game.
UNT came in with one of the nation's top scoring defenses and forced seven straight scoreless UNLV possessions. The Rebels punted the first three times they had the ball after halftime, and the Mean Green scored after each one.
The Mean Green, playing in their first bowl game since a 2004 New Orleans Bowl loss to Southern Miss, sacked Herring five times.
UNLV jumped in front in the first quarter on Marcus Sullivan's 9-yard TD reception. Devante Davis set up the score with a 29-yard grab, and finished with 10 catches for 96 yards.
The Rebels then had a chance to grab control, but Keith Whitely muffed a punt and Zed Evans recovered for North Texas at the UNLV 42. Antoinne Jimmerson had the tying score on a run from inside the 1.