On November 18th, the Tar Heels will welcome the Catamounts of Western Carolina to Chapel Hill for the final home game of the season. This will be the first game between the two schools and the first of a two-game series announced last year. The final game will be played next November in Chapel Hill.
Western Carolina comes into this season with mild expectations after a 2-9 record a season ago. However, they believe that the overall stability and low turnover of the roster could help to overcome some of the shortcomings from a season ago.
While they are returning nine starters on the offensive side of the ball, the Catamounts offense will be lead by a spectacular quarterback-running back duo.
Last season, redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyrie Adams tossed 217 passes for 2,568 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding 580 yards and one touchdown on the ground. His efforts lead to him being named the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year in 2016. During fall practice, Adams has been splitting first-teams reps with redshirt junior Wes Holcombe, although Adams is expected to be the starter.
Running back Detrez Newsome, who led all FCS players with an average of 213 all-purpose yards per game in 2016, will have the offense run through him. With over 1,000 rushing yards last season, Newsome is expected to increase that number and carry most of the load in the running game. He will also make a smaller impact in the receiving game as he tabbed around 350 yards a season ago. Newsome was named to the Walter Payton Award (comparable to the Heisman for the FBS) preseason watch list, while Hero Sports tabbed him as the best running back returning in the Southern Conference and was listed on the STATS and Lindy’s preseason All-FCS Second-Teams.
The Catamounts are replacing four starters on the defensive side. Senior defensive back Keion Crossen was named to the Southern Conference Preseason Second-Team while linebacker A.J. Newman was named to the College Sports Madness All-FCS Third Team. Redshirt linebacker Tahjai Watt, a convert from the defensive line, has impressed the coaching staff in camp practices recording a number of sacks and tackles.
The highlight of the special teams is the return of junior punter Ian Berryman. He has racked up the accolades with numerous preseason First-Team All-FCS selections by STATS, HERO, Athlon, Lindy’s, College Sports Madness, and the Southern Conference tabbed him in their first team voting.
Since this is the final home game of the season, the Tar Heels will be celebrating the career completion of fourteen seniors and four graduate students. Among those are M.J. Stewart, Austin Proehl, and Bentley Spain. In addition to Senior Day, UNC has tagged this event as Military Appreciation Day.
Carolina should have too much top-level talent for the Catamounts to handle. However, should the Tar Heels overlook this game and set their eyes to the season end-cap showdown with NC State the following week, this game could be closer than it should be. All in all, I believe the Tar Heels celebrate the achievements of the seniors with a dominating 41-10 win.