The Tar Heels came into today’s game very badly needing a win. Things got crazy even before the kickoff. Word quickly spread that Brandon Harris would get the start over Chazz Surratt for an unknown reason and Hunter Lent would get the nod for injured punter Tom Sheldon.
The story of the day was another slow start from the offense while the defense was holding their own. Throughout the first quarter, North Carolina managed just 31 yards on eight plays in only three and a half minutes, all of those yards coming on six runs from Jordon Brown and Brandon Harris.
The Tar Heels had a three-and-out to begin the game followed by a five play drive that ended when Freeman Jones missed a 36-yard field goal that sailed wide left.
Virginia’s next possession was methodical as they drove the ball down the field on an 18-play, 78-yard drive that ended the first quarter and opened the second quarter. However, the Tar Heels held strong on 3rd and Goal from the one-yard line and forced UVA to take the field goal.
On their next drive, North Carolina found some rhythm and moved the ball on a 13-play drive. However, the drive ended suddenly when Harris went deep to Anthony Ratliff-Williams and the pass was intercepted at the four yard line and returned 36 yards to the 40. The teams then traded short drives.
As has been the norm, though, Virginia would drive the ball 67 yards in just under five minutes to take a 10-0 lead. The Tar Heels took over at the six yard line with under a minute remaining in the half. Coach Fedora wisely called two inside rushes to run the clock out.
The second half was a different story for the UNC offense. Their first possession only lasted one minute. Harris started the drive with a rush for eight yards. Michael Carter reeled off a 56-yard scamper, followed by a 10-yard run and a one yard score. After the extra point, North Carolina was back in the game, down only 10-7.
Again, the teams traded short possessions. Virginia went three-and-out, Harris threw another interception, and Virginia shanked their next punt. This started the Tar Heels on Virginia’s 47 yard line and Michael Carter took over. A 47-yard touchdown run put the Tar Heels up 14-10 with 9:52 left in the third quarter.
Virginia would seemingly begin another long drive. This time, though, Tomon Fox strip-sacked Kurt Benkerk on 3rd and 11. Although the Cavaliers recovered, the Tar Heel defense held and forced another punt.
The offense couldn’t continue their hot-streak as the next series lasted only four plays. Virginia then found their big scoring play when Olamide Zaccheaus went 81 yards on the pass from Benkert to put the Cavaliers up for good.
The Tar Heel offense again gave the ball back to the Cavaliers as Harris was drilled on the second play of the next drive. The pass seemed to float in the air and Virginia was under it right away. North Carolina was able to hold Virginia on 3rd and 10, but a 27 yard field goal pushed the lead to six at 20-14.
The fourth quarter proved to be an exciting one as both teams had two possessions. On the first possession, the Tar Heels were able to move the ball until Harris was again hit as he threw. This time, the ball fell safely to the ground. The Heels would have to punt and hope a tired defense could hold.
Virginia, on the other hand, was determined to end the game as quickly as possible. Going seven straight plays without even seeing a third down, then picking up a huge fourth-and-two, the Cavaliers seemed poised to score. However, a big penalty pushed Virginia to the brink of field goal range and a strip-sack by Malik Carney ended the drive. Cayson Collins scooped up the lost ball and returned it to the 40.
The Tar Heels had the ball, down 20-14 with 2:56 left and 60 yards in front of them. After moving the ball 23 yards in only four plays, the drive came to a halt. Harris missed an open Ratliff-Williams on a deep ball in the end zone and a Dazz Newsome completion went for no gain.
It was then fourth-and-nine with just over a minute to go. Harris lines up in the shotgun. A Virginia defensive lineman broke through and swiped at Harris, clearly catching his facemask, causing him to go to the ground for a 12-yard loss and ending the game.
Boos rained down from the few thousand left in attendance as Virginia lined up in the victory formation and took two knees to run out the clock.
North Carolina falls to 1-6 on the season. They are 0-4 in the ACC and 0-5 at home.
Brandon Harris went 7-18 for 46 yards with three interceptions and two sacks. This is the lowest output in the passing game for the Tar Heels since they threw for 42 yards in 2000 against Maryland.
Michael Carter lit up the statbook. He rushed the ball 13 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns. He never had a rush that went for a loss of yards. His 56-yard run in the third quarter ties Chazz Surratt’s touchdown run against Duke as the longest run of the season. He leads the team with seven touchdowns and 42 points accounted for.
Carter is the first UNC freshman to rush for over 100 yards since TJ Logan ran for 137 against Old Dominion in 2013. He also gained the most yards on the ground by a freshman since Gio Bernard gained 165 against Duke in 2011. This was the most yards by a single running back since Elijah Hood gained 168 against against Georgia Tech last season.
Defensively, M.J. Stewart recorded two pass-breakups to take his total to 37. He is only three short of UNC’s career PBU record held by Robert Williams.
Tomon Fox’s recorded two sacks. The last time a Tar Heel recorded two or more sacks was in 2015 when Mikey Bart had two and a half against Virginia Tech.
Cole Holcomb and Cayson Collins lead the team in tackles with 14 and 12, respectively.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier as the Tar Heels are on the road next week in Blacksburg to take on the Hokies of Virginia Tech.