DALLAS (AP) - Caleb Herring led UNLV on a 95-yard scoring drive the first time he had the ball against one of the nation's top scoring defenses.
By the time the Rebels found the end zone again, the Heart of Dallas Bowl was all but over.
Herring was sacked five times and UNLV struggled in the second half of a 36-14 loss to North Texas on Wednesday.
Derek Thompson threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns and Brelan Chancellor scored twice for the Mean Green, who pulled away from a 7-7 halftime tie in their first bowl game in nine years. It was North Texas' first postseason win since the 2002 New Orleans Bowl.
The Rebels' second touchdown occurred with the Mean Green leading 28-7 in the fourth quarter.
''They covered us up a little bit, and they were getting some push and making Caleb move his feet,'' UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. ''They have pretty good players up front, and they did a nice job.''
The Rebels (7-6) lost in the postseason for the first time in the school's fourth bowl game and first since 2000 after winning just two games each of the past three seasons.
''I would have liked to go out on a bit of a sweeter taste, but the time here I've had is nothing short of amazing,'' said Herring, who had 196 yards passing and two touchdowns.
North Texas' third postseason victory came in front of a strong turnout of 38,380 on a sunny day at the Cotton Bowl, just 45 miles from the Denton campus.
''It was so exciting running on the field and seeing a sea of green,'' said Thompson, who was 21 of 30 without an interception and voted the game's MVP. ''We love our fans.''
Both of Chancellor's touchdown runs came in the fourth quarter. He also keyed the go-ahead scoring drive in the third with some nifty footwork on a first-down catch.
Chancellor had 121 yards combined - 74 receiving and 47 rushing, including the scoring runs of 3 and 15 yards - as the Mean Green finished with more wins in 2013 than the five years combined before coach Dan McCarney arrived last season.
''We sent a message that this is a program on the rise,'' said McCarney, a 36-year veteran coaching in the historic Fair Park venue for the first time. ''I think we're a good example for other football teams that if you do things the right way, it can pay off.''
Thompson threw a tiebreaking 7-yard touchdown pass to Drew Miller in the third quarter and put the Mean Green up 28-7 with a 34-yard scoring toss to Darnell Smith.
Chancellor kept the go-ahead drive alive by slipping past UNLV's Peni Vea along the sideline and staying inbounds for a 17-yard catch on third-and-16. The first of four third-down conversions on the drive came one play after North Texas was backed up by a late-hit penalty on guard Mason Y'Barbo.
''We're a second-half football team,'' Thompson said. ''We've been that all year. We knew if we picked up the tempo that we could do some things and move the football.''
Tim Cornett, UNLV's career rushing leader, was held to 33 yards - 71 below his average and the same total as Herring, who threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
''Our yards per carry just weren't good enough and defensively, we weren't good enough on third down,'' Hauck said. ''We got into some third-down situations where we had the upper hand and they converted.''
Herring's second scoring toss was a 13-yarder to Jerry Rice Jr., the first career touchdown for the son of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in his final college game.
North Texas (9-4), which was ninth nationally in scoring defense coming in, forced seven straight scoreless UNLV possessions. The Rebels punted the first three times they had the ball after halftime, and the Mean Green scored after each one.
UNLV jumped in front in the first quarter on Marcus Sullivan's 9-yard TD reception. Devante Davis set up the score with a 29-yard grab, and finished with 10 catches for 96 yards.
The Rebels then had a chance to grab control, but Keith Whitely muffed a punt and Zed Evans recovered for North Texas at the UNLV 42. Antoinne Jimmerson had the tying score on a run from inside the 1.