DALLAS -- The North Texas Mean Green put the finishing touches on a turnaround season by routing the UNLV Rebels 36-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year's Day at the Cotton Bowl.
Third-year North Texas coach Dan McCarney rebuilt a program that last played in a bowl in 2004. The Mean Green (9-4) won at least nine games for only the fifth time in school history after going 4-8 last season.
North Texas senior quarterback Derrick Thompson closed his career by throwing for 256 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score in the third quarter. Wide receiver Brelan Chancellor scored two rushing touchdowns.
The Mean Green defense was able to contain UNLV (7-6) after the Rebels scored on their first drive of the game. UNLV managed just 262 yards of offense, well short of its regular-season average of 423.8 yards.
Rebels quarterback Caleb Herring passed for 196 yards and two touchdowns but was virtually shut down for the majority of the game before throwing a meaningless fourth-quarter score. UNLV ran for only 66 yards for an average of 2.4 yards per carry.
The Mean Green took their first lead at 14-7 by grinding out a 12-play, 60-yard drive in the third quarter. North Texas converted four third downs, including Thompson's 7-yard touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Drew Miller.
North Texas added two more long scoring drives to put the game away. Chancellor had 3-yard touchdown on the opening play of the fourth quarter and Thompson connected with wide receiver Darnell Smith from 34 yards midway through the quarter.
Working out the shadow of their goal posts, the Rebels drove 95 yards on their first possession in the opening quarter for a 7-0 lead. Herring completed all five of his throws during the march, ending with a 9-yarder to wide receiver Marcus Sullivan for the score.
The Mean Green tied the score late in the first quarter after recovering a fumbled punt return at the UNLV 42. Running back Antoinne Jimmerson powered in from 1-yard line eight plays later.
That proved to be all the scoring in the first half, as the teams went into the locker room tied 7-7. Both offenses struggled to move the ball despite near-perfect conditions.
North Texas defensive backs dropped two potential interceptions, the second being a likely pick-6 in the final minute of the second quarter. A blocked UNLV field goal attempt and touchdown return was also negated by a timeout from McCarney just before the kick.
NOTES: North Texas improved to 3-5 in bowl games and UNLV dropped to 3-1. ... UNLV had its first winning season since 2000. All six losses were to bowl-eligible teams. ... North Texas coach Dan McCarney led North Texas to its first bowl appearance since 2004 and first nine-win season since 2003. ... UNLV leads the all-time series with North Texas 4-1.