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UNC vs. Mercer - Player of the Game: Sam Howell

The Tar Heels’ freshman quarterback didn’t play for long, but he was quite impressive when he did.

NCAA Football: Mercer at North Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Ok, yes, it was just Mercer and this game was basically over in the first quarter. That being said, good lord, Sam Howell. UNC’s freshman quarterback wrote himself into the history books on Saturday.

Howell played just one half of football on the day, but he was extremely impressive in it, throwing for 152 yards on just 13 attempted. He only threw three incompletions on the day, two of which came in his final drive, and threw just as many touchdowns.

His first touchdown of the day came with the Tar Heels already up 14-0. After UNC got the ball back deep inside their own territory, it took a couple plays for them to work things up to their own 34-yard line. Then on the fourth play of the drive, Howell uncorked a deep ball and found Dyami Brown for a 66-yard touchdown, which took the Carolina lead over 20 points.

Just a couple minutes later, UNC got the ball back and after a seven play drive, Howell found Jake Bargas for a four-yard touchdown. This particular one was his 31st on the season, giving him a pair of records. For one, it broke Mitch Trubisky’s single-season UNC record set back in 2016. It also surpassed Trevor Lawrence’s total from last year, which is, as far as we can tell, the most touchdowns ever thrown by a true freshman in the NCAA.

Howell’s third touchdown came just over one minute of game time later when he found Emery Simmons for a 33-yarder on the first play of a Tar Heel drive.

There could have even been a fourth before halftime, but a 68-yard touchdown connection between Howell and Toe Groves was wiped out by a holding penalty. Had that stood, he would’ve finished not only with 4 TDs, but also over 200 yards on less than 15 attempts. His third and final incompletion also came after that, so he would have finished with twice as many touchdowns as incompletions had the penalty not happened.

The other main nominee for this is Michael Carter. The running back picked up his first rushing touchdown of the season and two more after that. In total, he finished with 159 yards on just nine attempts, while also catching one pass for 11 yards. Were it not for the notable records that Howell set and the need to highlight them, he probably would’ve gotten this honor.

This performance against Mercer was somewhat expected. However, the pure efficiency at which Howell dissected them was still quite impressive.