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UNC 27, Texas A&M 41: Tar Heels come up just short in Orange Bowl

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UNC hangs tough but one drop and two big plays do the Tar Heels in.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Texas A&M vs North Carolina Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

With so few opportunities to make an impact, a game can come down to a few plays. Such was the case tonight as the Tar Heels hung with the fifth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies, even having a lead in the fourth quarter.

Texas A&M managed to tie the score at 27 when Sam Howell had a wide open Khafre Brown in the flat free to score...but Brown dropped the ball. Carolina had to give the ball back and Texas A&M’s superior front line finally cashed in a big play, as Devon Achane scamped down the sideline for 76 yards to put TAMU up for good.

Carolina got the ball back, but faced a fourth and short deep in their own territory. Mack Brown and Phil Longo rolled the dice, but Josh Henderson spun one too many times. The Aggies made a stop, and they were able to cash it in a few plays later for the final result.

The ending masked what was a back and forth game where neither squad had a lead more than one possession until the very end. Despite missing a significant portion of their offense, Carolina hung 27 points on A&M as Sam Howell had three scores, including two beautiful passes to Freshman Josh Downs. The Sophomore finished 17/30 for 219 yards.

Texas A&M came into the game with a chip on its shoulder thinking they belonged in the CFP, but the Tar Heels showed grit throughout coming up just short.

The first half was a real back and forth adventure for both teams as the defense showed up early for the Tar Heels, forcing the Aggies to punt on their first drive. However, A&M’s defense turned around and forced Howell into a interception deep in Carolina territory. The Aggies were able to cash in the interception a few plays later, and they took a quick 7-0 lead on a run by Isiah Spiller.

The Tar Heels settled down on their next drive on the strength of strong running by Josh Henderson and British Brooks, as well as some dumb penalties by Hezekiah Jones. However, Carolina’s red zone troubles reared their ugly head again, and despite two strong drives and solid work by the Tar Heel defense to shut down Kellen Mond, Carolina found themselves in a 10-6 hold deep in the second quarter.

And then Dazz Newsome happened.

TAMU leaned on their strong defensive front and seemed to hurry up Howell a lot until the senior got involved. First it was a big third down conversion, and then it was an incredible over the should catch on a ball perfectly placed by the sophomore. After a review the call stood, and the Heels took a 13-10 lead.

The defense got two sacks on the ensuing drive and almost got home to force a three and out, but Mond showed why he was earning praise as one of the best in the SEC by hanging in the pocket and whipping a pass to Chase Lane over the middle to move the chains. Mond got the Aggies in the shadow of the goal line, and Spiller cashed it in to put the Aggies up 17-13 at halftime.

Howell finished the first half 6/12 for 66 yards plus the pick and touchdown. He was also their leading rusher for the half at 42 yards, making TAMU pay for an aggressive blitz call. Overall the Tar Heels pulled off 84 yards on the ground, despite missing All-ACC heavyweights Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. Mond was an impressive 7/10 for 99 yards, and Spiller had the 44 yards with the two scores.