North Texas 68, W. Kentucky 49
DENTON, Texas (AP)Someone had to win Saturday's game between the Sun Belt Conference's last two winless teams.
In North Texas' 68-49 offensive shootout victory over Western Kentucky, the deciding factor was that Western Kentucky's offense blinked and made the first mistake.
Riley Dodge accounted for seven touchdowns, four passing and three rushing, as North Texas (2-6, 1-4) matched its school record of 68 points set against Youngstown State in 1957.
The Hilltoppers (0-8, 0-4), in their first year in the Football Bowl Subdivision, saw their losing streak reach 16 games.
The Mean Green trailed by two touchdowns in the second quarter and 35-28 at halftime. But entering the fourth quarter, it was 49-49 thanks to Lance Dunbar's 71-yard touchdown run. Dunbar ended with 227 yards on 23 carries and his fifth consecutive game with more than 100 yards rushing.
"The biggest thing was that we didn't turn the ball over and give them a chance to go up a couple of scores," North Texas coach Todd Dodge said. "There was finally a break when we came up with the interception."
Jeremy Phillips intercepted a Kawaun Jakes pass and five plays later, Riley Dodge, the coach's son, ran 1 yard for a touchdown to put the Mean Green ahead to stay at 56-49.
Dodge, a redshirt freshman, entered Saturday with one rushing touchdown and three TD passes. He accounted for seven on Saturday, one short of the school record of eight set by Giovanni Vizza against Navy in 2007.
In that game, the highest-scoring game in Football Bowl Subdivision history, North Texas lost to Navy 74-62.
"That Navy game was a scoring fest when we were the first to blink. Fortunately, we were able to get that done this time," the coach said.
"As a father, I'm very proud of Riley. As the coach of this football team, I'm even more proud that he did a good job protecting the football. It was in his hands a lot."
In the first half, Riley Dodge completed 16 of 20 passes for 168 yards. He threw two touchdown passes to Darius Carey and a third to Jamaal Jackson to pull the Mean Green within 35-28 just 6 seconds before halftime.
In the second half, Dodge carried the ball nine times for 53 yards and all three of his rushing touchdowns. He was an efficient 8-for-10 for 94 yards and his final score, a 38-yard pass to Jackson, closed the scoring as North Texas outscored the Hilltoppers 19-0 in the fourth quarter. Dodge finished with 262 yards passing and 70 rushing.
"The way it started we knew that we were going to have to keep pace offensively," Riley Dodge said. "The defense did a nice job of making adjustments in the second half, and the big interception gave us the momentum that we needed to put the game away."
Western Kentucky hadn't scored more than 24 points in any game this season, but surpassed that total in less than 20 minutes against North Texas. The Hilltoppers erased a 14-7 deficit by scoring on Marell Booker's 61-yard run and Tyrell Hayden's 50-yard dash. Jakes' 3-yard pass to Jack Doyle put them ahead 28-14.
Bobby Rainey ran 10 times for 87 yards and two scores, and Hayden totaled 84 in seven carries as the Hilltoppers piled up 281 rushing yards.
But all that offense wasn't enough. North Texas is only 5-27 in coach Dodge's three seasons, and three of those victories are over Western Kentucky.
"We didn?t finish the game when we needed to," Western Kentucky coach David Elson said. "We made mistakes, and they forced a couple of turnovers."