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Heart of Dallas Bowl proves small games can still be a big deal

Army running back Darnell Woolfolk celebrates his second-quarter touchdown against North Texas on Dec. 27.
(Khampha Bouaphanh / Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

What a crummy football game, right?

North Texas versus Army was supposed to be the dud of the holiday season, a stumbling, fumbling example of the bloated bowl system. Media outlets across the country – including The Times – ranked it dead last in a dizzying list of 42 postseason matchups.

But by the time Army knocked away a fourth-down pass to secure an overtime victory on Tuesday, the Heart of Dallas Bowl had proved the critics wrong and served as an important reminder.

The 8-5 Black Knights won, 38-31, in a game that featured more than 900 yards of offense and lots of big plays.

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North Texas – which came in with a 5-7 record, invited only because of its academic performance – fell behind by 17 points in the second quarter but never folded, fighting back, tying the score on a 37-yard field goal in the final minute.

“I felt like we were at our best coming into this game,” Coach Seth Littrell told reporters.

Army relied on its trademark grinding offense, amassing 480 yards on the ground. The winning touchdown came on a daring fourth-down run with quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw pitching to Jordan Asberry, who sprinted around right end.

“One of our goals is to not flinch and to believe no matter what,” Bradshaw said. “We were determined that we were going to get it in.”

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Amid the current debate in college football – Have the new playoffs diminished the traditional postseason? – Tuesday morning’s game proved that even lower-tier bowls can be exciting, with plenty of good football to be watched.

As the Army team streamed onto the field in celebration – and a North Texas player slammed his helmet down in frustration – it was also clear that small bowls still mean something to the players.

“There were plays that we’d like to have back, there are some things that didn’t go our way,” said North Texas quarterback Alec Morris, who passed for 304 yards and three touchdowns. “But when we look back, everyone gave their effort, everyone was competing as hard as they could.”

The bar has been set. The big-time playoffs have something to live up to.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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