Halloween. Charlottesville. Prime time. A mobile opposing QB. A 1-4 opponent trying to salvage their season. Every single bogeyman that lives to de-cleat UNC football all converged tonight. For the first half, the Tar Heels obliged by living up to their historical suckfest that typically follows any combination of those conditions.
One night after Season 2 debut of the beloved Mandalorian, the Heels donned their all-white Storm Trooper ensemble. For first 30 minutes of play, they also paid homage to the chronically inept foot soldiers by doing absolutely nothing to stop their opponent.
The game started well enough with a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. A mix of runs and passes concluded with a 54-yard bomb to Dyami Brown. It was the fifth time this season that UNC scored on their opening drive. The euphoria was short lived.
Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong promptly responded with a touchdown drive of his own, finding the end zone on a 23-yard scamper. Along the way UVA converted a fourth-and-one near midfield and used an array of arguably gimmicky formations. The Cavaliers then proceeded to miss the extra point. If you were watching and thought the first drive was more luck and desperation than skill and talent, you could hardly be blamed.
Unfortunately, it happened three more times in the first half. Despite Grayson Atkins making field goals from 51 and 31 yards, and Sam Howell tallying 271 yards and two TDs, UNC’s defense could not get off the field. Along the way, the Cavaliers scored on a Shane Simpson 71-yard catch and run for a touchdown, a 3rd-and-10 conversion from the UNC 18-yard line (UNC blitzed six, leaving Ra’Shaun Henry unmarked), and a one-yard run was initially set up by a Toe Groves muffed punt return.
The final five minutes, especially, were a special lesson in ineptitude. The Heels missed a field goal (from 52-yards), muffed a punt (see above), and fumbled a backwards pass from the two-yard line in the red zone with 12 seconds remaining and no timeouts. The result was a 27-20 halftime deficit for the Heels.
The second half didn’t begin much better. The Cavaliers got the ball to start the third quarter, and promptly drove 75-yards. Wayne Taulapapa did the honors, carrying it in from the two-yard line pushing the lead to 34-20.
On the ensuing possession, Sam Howell fumbled as he was sacked for the fifth time. Virginia once again did what UNC struggled to do. They finished that drive in the red zone and UNC was staring at a 41-20 deficit with 5:34 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
The Heels tried to recover, but reminiscent of last season, they fell short in the final minutes.
A comeback seemed to be in the works after a Jeremiah Gemmel interception was sandwiched between two more Howell to Dyami Brown touchdowns connections. Those 14 points came less than three minutes apart and cut the deficit to 41-34.
The joy was short lived. A nine-minute drive led to a UVA field goal, pushing the lead to 44-34 with 4:07 left on the clock. In keeping with the night’s theme, North Carolina responded.
Dyami Brown’s 10th and 11th receptions of the night helped set-up a Javonte Williams three-yard touchdown run. With 2:52 remaining, and trailing 44-41, the UNC defense got their second big stop of the night, forcing a fourth-and-four.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. As had happened all night (and all year), special teams once again faltered. UVA converted a fake punt effectively ending UNC’s chances.
The Cavaliers scored 14 points off UNC’s turnovers. Both Groves’ muffed punt and Howell’s fumble happened inside North Carolina’s 30-yard line, giving the Hoos a short field both times.
Sam Howell finished with 443 yards and 4 touchdowns on 23-28 passing, but was sacked five times. Dyami Brown was the biggest benefactor with 11 receptions for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The UNC rushing attack never really got going. Javonte Williams and Michael Carter finished with a combined 118 yards on just 22 carries.
Cam Kelly led the team with 12 tackles.
Mack Brown is now 1-3 against a Bronco Mendenhall-coached team .