On Saturday night’s Frisco Bowl, the North Texas Mean Green and the Boise State Broncos renewed a minor rivalry between 1994 to 2000, where the teams met five times in their six-contest history. Tensions boiled throughout the game, creating a rivalry feeling as the Broncos tried to finish the season strong after a disappointing loss in the Mountain West conference finals against Fresno State.
Meanwhile, North Texas came off firing their head coach Seth Littrell thirteen days before Saturday’s game, where interim coach Phil Bennett took over duties. “We’re going to try to finish this season as a team,” Bennett said on Friday before the game. “[The players] are the ones that got us here. It’s a player’s game, and coaches are just fortunate enough to be involved in it.” The night started sluggishly for both teams on the offensive side, but halftime adjustments turned a defensive juggernaut battle into a track meet between Boise State and North Texas.
In the end, Boise State’s two takeaways and their Frisco Bowl record rushing attack became too much to overcome for the Mean Green. “Don’t stress, just be comfortable,” offensive MVP Taylen Green said after the game in the 235-yard second-half rushing attack by the Broncos. “We were beating ourselves up. We had holding [and] false starts. We were pressing too much.” Green finished the night 13 for 22 for 137 yards and a touchdown pass but ran for 119 yards on 12 carries. Ashton Jeanty was the leading rusher with 178 yards on 28 carries with a touchdown.
It was a brisk start to the game for North Texas. After a pass interference penalty on the first play, the Mean Green took a third-down forty-yard shot from quarterback Austin Aune to Damon Ward. The Mean Green had to settle for a field goal to go up 3-0 early. Boise State’s next possession took twelve plays and forty-three yards, but the Broncos turned it over on downs at the Mean Green twenty-nine, coming up empty on a six-minute drive. After both teams punted, Aune threw a linebacker-seeking interception to Ezekiel Noa in the Mean Green redzone.
The Broncos almost turned it back to North Texas, but a defensive pass interference call on Quinn Whitlock negated the red zone takeaway for the Mean Green. Boise State settled for a Jonas Dalmas field goal to even the game up at 3. “I thought we were ready to play,” Bennet told me when I asked about the defense in the first half. “I thought both sides were [but] I thought we wasted a couple of possessions in the second quarter. I thought Mike and I talked about it. He had a plan, and I thought we got better at that. I thought we were ready to play, and I think it showed.”
North Texas immediately answered with a 75-yard strike from Aune to Jordan Smart to set up the Mean Green inside the Boise State 15-yard line. The drive capped off with Ikaika Ragsdale’s one-yard touchdown run to put the Mean Green up 10-3 over the Broncos halfway in the second quarter. On the next drive, the Broncos drove to the Mean Green 25 on two completions equaling fifty yards (Green had two completions for two yards before those two completions). However, Boise State’s drive stalled again and settled for another Dalmas field goal, cutting the Mean Green lead to 10-6 at halftime.
To start the second half, Boise State galloped out of the gate, which became an understatement on an offensive showcase third quarter. The first three runs went for 73 yards (Boise State had 133 yards at halftime). The drive capped off with Green’s three-yard keeper for the score. The Broncos went for two on a Connor Riddle pass to Mason Hutton to successfully complete the try putting Boise State up 14-10 early in the third. North Texas answered the Broncos’ touchdown with a seventeen-yard pass from Stone Earle to Jake Roberts. Earle faked the run, which left Roberts open for the score putting the Mean Green back up 17-14.
Boise State answered with four plays of fifteen or more yards on their next possession resulting in a Green pass to Eric McAlister, putting the Broncos back up 21-17. However, North Texas stormed back on their next possession with a Jyaire Shorter 30-yard touchdown catch and took the fourth lead change of the quarter (24-21 North Texas). Boise State capped off the quarter with another Green touchdown run that went nineteen yards. The Broncos lead 28-24 after three quarters in a period featuring 392 yards, 36 points, five lead changes, and 238 rushing yards combined.
“We knew that we could do better at halftime,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said about the third-quarter outburst. “We identified some formations; our offensive staff identified some formation where we can keep leverage on the fronts we were getting,” coach Avalos said on the second-half adjustments. “We were able to put Taylen in some positions to take advantage of the space on the perimeter, whether it was with his legs or with his arm.”
Aune underthrew his intended target deep, and Boise State’s Jaylen Clark intercepted him. Boise State capped the drive with a fourth down goal line run by Jeanty to extend Boise State’s lead to 35-24, the largest lead of the night by either side. However, North Texas didn’t panic on their next drive. They went ninety yards on eleven plays capping off on Ragsdale’s touchdown run (Aune with a two-point conversion run) to cut the Broncos’ lead to 35-32. Ragsdale finished the night with 94 yards on 21 carries, along with Aune’s 238 passing yards and 53 completion percentage (17 for 32). “We came ready to play and we played North Texas football,” Mean Green tight end Jake Roberts said after the game in the team’s resiliency. “I leave the field knowing I gave it everything I had and I’m sure the rest of the team does too.”
North Texas had two chances late with zero yards on their final two possessions deep in their own territory, sealing the win for Boise State. “We walk about it all year, be resilient [and] staying in the fight on the defensive side,” defensive MVP Ezekiel Noa told me on the final two drives defensively for Boise State. “No matter what the situation is going on, good or bad, we always got to stay neutral. For us to keep playing our game on the defensive side because we know when we do that, we can be unstoppable.”
Taylen Green becomes the first Freshman in Frisco Bowl history to win offensive MVP, and the three-point win for Boise State is the smallest margin of victory in bowl history. Boise State overtakes North Texas in all-time contests 4-3 with their victory on Saturday.