RUSTON - For the first 26 minutes of Saturday's homecoming contest, it appeared as though Louisiana Tech could be on its way to its second Conference USA win of the year.
However, a 61-yard TD pass on a broken play from North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson to receiver Brelan Chancellor and a 56-yard interception return for a score by Zac Whitfield just 90 seconds later propelled the Mean Green to a 28-13 victory over the Bulldogs before 20,317 fans at Joe Aillet Stadium.
"It is always disappointing to lose, especially homecoming with such a great crowd," said Tech coach Skip Holtz. "The Walk of Pride was a great atmosphere and you feel bad for the alumni and the fans who made such a commitment to this school. It is unfortunate we were not able to go get a win at homecoming. It is always hard to lose and it hurts to lose, it sounds like a broken record."
The Bulldogs offense - which capitalized on an early turnover - struggled to move the football on the ground all day as the North Texas defense held LA Tech to only 37 yards rushing on 23 attempts in the game, including 12 carries for 25 yards by Kenneth Dixon.
"I give North Texas a lot of credit," Holtz said. "They loaded the box and said they were not going to let Kenneth (Dixon) hurt them. They played a physical football game, and they were able to load up and stop the run. We were not able to make enough big plays in the passing game to make them pay for it."
With the ground game in check, freshman Ryan Higgins was forced to go to the air and completed 36-of-54 passes for 343 yards but with two costly interceptions.
Tech (2-5, 1-2 C-USA) took an early 10-0 lead behind a stellar defensive effort and an opportunistic offense. IK Enemkpali intercepted a screen pass on North Texas' first offensive possession and five plays later, Ryan Higgins scored on a two-yard keeper as the Bulldogs led 7-0 with 7:50 to play in the opening quarter.
"I was really proud the way the football team and especially the defense played in the first half," Holtz said. "Outside of an interception returned for a touchdown, and a scramble that resulted in a big play, I thought our defense competed."
The Bulldogs then upped the advantage midway through the second quarter as Kyle Fischer connected on a 40-yard field goal with 6:13 to play, capping a 47-yard drive that was highlighted by a 31-yard completion to Andrew Guillot.
However, that's when the Tech defense which had controlled the NT offense all game, was victimized by a broken play. On a second-down and eight-yards to go, Thompson was flushed out of the pocket and then heaved a pass deep down the field that Chancellor made a play on and then outraced the Tech defenders to the end zone for the score. The extra point cut the Tech lead to 10-7 with 3:53 to play in the quarter.
On the Bulldogs ensuing possession, Higgins hurried an out route intended for Richie Casey and Whitfield stepped in front of the pass, racing 56 yards untouched to the endzone as the Mean Green led 14-10 with 2:05 to play in the half.
Tech mounted one last drive before the half, marching 67-yards on 11 plays. However, Fischer's 25-yard field goal hit the right upright as the deficit remained 14-10 at the half.
After forcing NT to punt on their opening possession of the second half, the Bulldogs offense was pinned on its two yard line. Unable to record a first down, Tech punted and the Mean Green took over on the Bulldogs 43-yard line.
Thompson then connected with Darnell Smith for a 35-yard game on a third down and long and one play later Thompson scored from three-yards out as North Texas upped the lead to 21-10 with 7:05 to play in the third quarter.
Following another Bulldog punt, Thompson led North Texas on another TD drive, this one covering 66 yards on 11 plays and capped by Brandin Byrd's one-yard run. Zach Paul's extra point gave the Mean Green a 28-10 lead with :40 to play in the quarter.
Fischer's second field goal of the game came from 35-yards out with 12:27 to play in the game, cutting the deficit to 28-13. The Bulldog defense got two stops, giving the Tech offense two more chances to get into the endzone.
However, a 9-play, 65-yard drive was stopped inside the North Texas red zone when Whitfield intercepted his second pass of the day with 2:29 to play in the game.
Thompson finished 16-of-24 for 221 yards and one score for NT while Chancellor caught five passes for 95 yards and one TD. Byrd led the Mean Green ground attack with 71 yards.
Guillot caught a career-high 10 passes for 99 yards while Hunter Lee added five catches for 45 yards.
Tech returns to action Saturday when it travels to Miami to face Florida International.