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The Daily Tar Heel

Football: Safely Home

Heels steal win with 3 late scores

UNC safety Deunta Williams and head coach Butch Davis react to the game-winning safety.
UNC safety Deunta Williams and head coach Butch Davis react to the game-winning safety.

EAST HARTFORD, CONN. — When he reached his seat in the interview room, coach Butch Davis paused deliberately to wipe some sweat from his brow, and then let out a very audible sigh.

“I told the chancellor, ‘That’s why you don’t see any 100-year-old football coaches,” he said a few minutes later, when asked about how his blood pressure was doing in the aftermath of No. 24 North Carolina’s 12-10 victory against Connecticut.

No kidding.

To cap a fourth quarter that featured more twists and turns than a Six Flags theme park, UNC (2-0) completed a rally from a 10-point deficit with a bizarre ending that Davis said he had never seen in all his years of coaching football.

With the score knotted 10-10 and less than two minutes remaining in the game, UConn (1-1) faced third-and-22 on its own 8-yard line.

“We had to go out there and basically try to get a sack or a stop,” defensive end Robert Quinn said. “The D-line as a whole wanted to try and get up on the ball and try to get a sack.”

The Huskies opted to set up a screen pass to combat the rush, and quarterback Cody Endres dumped it off to running back Jordan Todman for an apparent 15-yard gain, which was well short of the first down.

But the real action of the play occurred between Quinn and UConn offensive tackle Dan Ryan.

Ryan grabbed and tackled Quinn as the defensive end tried to get around the edge, which prompted an official to throw a flag for a holding penalty.

The spot for the penalty was just inside the end zone, which meant that, by rule, two points would be awarded to UNC.

When the referee confirmed the call and signaled for a safety, the Tar Heels went crazy on the sidelines, wildly jumping up and down and throwing up the safety sign above their heads.

“I didn’t even know what was going on,” tailback Ryan Houston said. “Everybody threw their hands up, and I didn’t know what they were doing. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ and they were like, ‘Holding in the end zone.’”

“And I just went nuts, like, ‘That’s two points, isn’t it? Yeah! We’re up two!’”

The game’s deciding play was set up by the revitalization of North Carolina’s offense, which had been stagnant for the game’s first 45 minutes. UNC had just 134 total yards through three quarters, and quarterback T.J. Yates had two passes picked off — one of which led to a Huskies’ touchdown.

The Tar Heels doubled their offensive output in the final quarter, stringing together drives of 78 and 76 yards to tie the game with a field goal and a touchdown. Tight end Zack Pianalto culminated the second drive with a 2-yard catch with 2:36 left on the clock.

“It was that conditioning in the fourth quarter, getting that push. We know that we still had something left in the tank,” Yates said. “We tried different things and went back to our original game plan, just kind of pounding it down the field those last two drives.”

But following the catch, momentum began to shift back and forth between the two teams.

Pianalto, who finished with 87 yards and seven catches, injured his foot jumping in excitement after his touchdown and had to be carted off the field. He did not return.

Connecticut’s next drive ended with the aforementioned safety, but the Huskies immediately got a jolt after they recovered an onside kick to get another chance on offense.

But, as it had done for most of the game, UNC’s defense stood its ground, yielding only one first down before shutting down UConn. Defensive end Quinton Coples sacked Endres on fourth down to clinch the game.

“We believed in our defense,” Yates said. “They saved our butt the entire game. They won us this game — all we had to do was put a couple points on the board.”

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