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The Daily Tar Heel

Dominique Ross sack sparks UNC defense against JMU

Football v JMU
Football v JMU

There were tense moments, especially in the first half, when the Dukes (2-1) looked like they could move the ball at will against the Tar Heel defense.

UNC (2-1) was playing flat, committing silly penalties and needed a spark. It came from an unlikely source — first-year linebacker Dominique Ross.

“I think that was the first defensive play I remember,” Coach Larry Fedora said. “So that’s not a good thing when the first defensive play you remember is in the second quarter. But that got some positive vibes going.”

The play came on third-and-six for James Madison on the North Carolina 14-yard line. The Dukes trailed 28-21 and were driving in the red zone. This was a big play.

James Madison quarterback Bryan Schor dropped back and rolled to his left, then to his right, evading the reach of defensive end Mikey Bart. Out of nowhere, Ross sprinted forward in pursuit of Schor.

It was a split-second decision for Ross — whether to stay in his zone or attack the quarterback. But he made the right one, sacking Schor for a 9-yard loss.

The next play, James Madison kicker Tyler Gray missed a 39-yard field goal, giving the ball back to North Carolina.

“He came to the sideline and I was joking with him — it took him forever to make it,” junior linebacker Cayson Collins said of the Ross sack. “It took him about 20 seconds to get him on the ground. But he got out there, he made the play and everybody was excited for him.”

The defense needed something to be proud of and joke about, because until that point, it had been ugly.

In the first quarter, James Madison gained 222 yards of total offense and averaged more than nine yards per play. The Dukes also scored three touchdowns and led 21-14 after 15 minutes of play.

“We know that those first three scores in the first quarter, that was embarrassing to us, honestly,” Collins said. “We got each other together a couple times to talk, and we kind of reminded everybody that what we want to do this year, who we want to be as a defense and everything — we can’t allow stuff like that to happen.”

On Saturday, North Carolina was missing star defensive tackle Nazair Jones, leaving the Tar Heels shorthanded on the defensive line. In his absence, UNC needed young guys to step up.

And they did. Defensive ends Malik Carney and Jason Strowbridge — who made his first career start Saturday — each had a sack against James Madison.

But the biggest play of the day came from Ross.

“I just remember Dominique just going after him,” senior Des Lawrence said. “And once I saw him going I said, ‘He got ‘em.’

“It’s young guys like that that spark the defense. And he may not even know it that he got everybody’s mind back into it, so that play was huge for us.”

@bauman_john

sports@dailytarheel.com

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