DENTON (AP) – Case Keenum threw for 398 yards with five touchdowns, three in a nine-minute span of the third quarter when the Houston Cougars finally broke away in a 48-23 victory Saturday night to spoil North Texas’ first game in its new stadium.
Houston (2-0) led only 20-17 at the break over North Texas (0-2), which has won only 10 games the past six-plus seasons.
Keenum emerged in the second half, throwing TD passes of 32 and 17 yards to Justin Johnson on the Cougars’ first two drives after halftime, then hit Patrick Edwards for a 46-yard score on the following drive to stretch the lead to 41-17. Keenum finished 23 of 36 passing, and Edwards had six catches for 136 yards.
Keenum, given a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after his early season-ending knee injury last year, has already thrown for 708 yards and seven TDs this season. He moved to fourth on the FBS career list for passing yards (14,294) and matched 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Weurffel for sixth with 114 TDs.
North Texas played its first home game under new coach Dan McCarney, nine days after a 41-16 loss at Florida International, propelled by a 28-point scoring spree in the first quarter.
The Mean Green had some exciting moments in their first game at Apogee Stadium. They stayed close with Houston until Keenum found his groove after halftime, when the Heisman Trophy hopeful was 14 of 17 for 224 yards with four TDs in the third quarter and one series into the fourth.
There was an announced crowd of 28,075, short of an opening sellout at the 30,850-seat stadium.
The configuration of seats in the north end zone of the new $78 million facility are designed to resemble the wings of an eagle, which remain a symbol at the school even though the teams have long been known as the Mean Green.
Visible over the top of those seats across Interstate 35 is Fouts Field, the rickety old stadium North Texas had called home since 1952.
North Texas started its first drive at the Houston 45 after standout returner Brelan Chancellor took the opening kickoff a couple of yards deep in the end zone and took off to the right. After running into a pack of players, he reversed field to an opening and broke two tackles near midfield before finally being dragged down.
The Mean Green got to the Houston 19 before Derek Thompson’s pass was intercepted by D.J. Hayden. Four plays later, Brandon Akpunku knocked the ball out of the hands of a scrambling Keenum and it was recovered by Ryan Downing at the Houston 27.
That set up an 11-yard keeper by Andrew McNulty, giving North Texas its only lead.
North Texas had two more turnovers and trailed 17-7 by the end of the first quarter. The first was a fumbled punt returned by Chancellor that set up Houston at the 12 before Matt Hogan’s 25-yard field goal.
After Keenum threw a 27-yard TD to Isaiah Sweeney, who split two defenders for the catch, North Texas gave it back when Lance Dunbar fumbled a pitch. Keenum overthrew a wide-open Johnson in the end zone before Michael Hayes had a 1-yard run.
Hayes, who had 13 carries for 70 yards, caught a 21-yard TD from Keenum early in the fourth quarter.
North Texas tied the game on Thompson’s 5-yard TD to Andrew Power and Zach Olen’s 39-yard field goal. Houston got the ball back with 1:51 left in the half, a drive that started with a 52-yard pass before Hogan’s 27-yard field goal made it 20-17.
For the first time, North Texas students had to pick up tickets before the game instead of just showing up with an ID card. They claimed the full allotment of 8,000 tickets, filling many of the sections of seats behind the Houston bench with the UNT band. Legendary entertainer Pat Boone, a student at the school from 1954-55 when it was still known as North Texas State, performed the national anthem before the game.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)