Trubisky elected to hand off to Elijah Hood on the next play, but Hood was stopped at the 2-yard line.
That left North Carolina with just enough time to get off one more play. And Trubisky knew who he would target.
“Him being confident gives me a lot of faith in him as a quarterback that when I throw the ball in the air, he’s gonna come down with it,” Trubisky said.
Howard knew he would get another chance.
“After the first one, I told (Lewis), ‘We’re coming right back,’” Howard said. “So I told him the fade was coming again... After the second, he said, ‘Where the ball at?’ And I said, ‘Just wait.’”
When Trubisky hiked the ball, there were six seconds left on the clock. Howard darted to the right side of the end zone, but he couldn’t shake Lewis, who was holding onto him.
Howard wasn’t surprised by the contact. He already had a plan.
“I knew he was gonna hold me,” Howard said. “And I knew if I got my left hand free, I was gonna snag it.”
Every week, Howard said the team works on cranking out two-minute scoring drives. And every week, he and the other receivers practice one-handed catches in preparation for pass interference.
Howard said leaping over defenders for end-zone receptions is his strength. All he needed was a high pass from Trubisky.
“When the ball’s up there in the air, it’s an 80-20 chance of me getting it,” Howard said. “And I’m getting it. So it ain’t a 50-50 ball no more.”
Despite the pressure of the moment, despite the holding, he curled his left fingers around the ball to reel in the catch.
“Boom,” Howard said. “There it is. Game-winner.”
The stadium erupted, and Howard’s teammates stormed the field in celebration.
“It was amazing,” Howard said. “My teammates came and made it one of the greatest moments of my life.”
But Head Coach Larry Fedora said someone else was even more excited about the catch.
“I promise there’s nobody happier than Lonnie, which is his dad,” Fedora said.
“And his dad is on him extremely hard all the time. I mean, he’s a great dad. And I promise you, his family’s proud of him. I mean, we’re all proud of him.”
Howard said his dad drives his competitive spirit. Since he was a little kid, his father has pushed him to improve.
“Hopefully he’s happy for me,” Howard said. “He might say, ‘You need to catch the first one.’”
That desire for perfection drove Howard to make two touchdown receptions for the first time since his first year at UNC. The senior finished Saturday with six receptions for 66 yards.
“That’s what Bug can do,” Fedora said. “He can go up. He’s a big-bodied guy that can go up and play above the rim, and he can go make the catch.”
Fedora said confidence made the difference on that final drive. With Trubisky’s calm presence and the receivers’ self-assuredness, no one voiced doubt.
That final catch was just reaffirmation of what the Tar Heels already knew.
“He made a fantastic grab,” Trubisky said. “So I’m just — I’m proud of that guy. He had a hell of a catch.”
But when the ball goes up, who could expect anything less from Bug Howard?
After all, the odds are on his side.