Chazz Surratt is with Brandon Harris more than Harris’ own roommate.
Their relationship seems like one that could be awkward or overly competitive. But it’s not like that. Harris and Surratt are good friends. They just so happen to be fighting for the No. 1 spot at North Carolina’s most important position.
“If he scores, I’m going to be the first one to go high-five him and jump with him,” Surratt said. “And it’s the same with him. We really support each other.”
One game into their UNC careers, it seems one of the quarterbacks has finally separated himself from the other. Although Harris took the first snap of the game and played the first two series, it was Surratt who led the Tar Heels on all four of their touchdown drives in their 35-30 loss to California on Saturday.
“He handled the situation very well,” head coach Larry Fedora said of Surratt. “We never saw him panic. He put the ball where it was supposed to go.”
Surratt, a redshirt first-year from Denver, N.C., took the first snap of his collegiate career on North Carolina’s third offensive series. The play itself was simple — an eight-yard gain off a shotgun quarterback draw.
But for Surratt, it was his first live action since Nov. 27, 2015, when he was still at East Lincoln High School. He had severely injured his left elbow before the game, so he threw short passes with his non-dominant right hand and broke North Carolina’s all-time state offensive yardage record with 16,593 in his career (passing Chris Leak’s 16,590).
““It was pretty surreal …” he said of his first play in 646 days. “After the first couple snaps, I settled down, and it was just football.”
Of UNC’s eight offensive possessions in the first hald, Harris and Surratt both quarterbacked four. Things started going downhill for Harris, a graduate transfer from Louisiana State, on his last of those four.
With North Carolina leading 17-14, Harris stepped onto the field with 1:02 left in the half. He completed four consecutive passes down to California’s 32-yard line before being picked off across the middle. Time ran out during the interception return, and UNC entered the locker room with points left on the board.
Harris’ next throw would be his last of the game. After Surratt played on the first two drives of the third quarter, Harris subbed in with his team trailing 21-17. He ran a two-yard quarterback draw then dropped back on second and eight and let a short throw fly.
His pass deflected off the hands of one California defender that should have caught it and into the hands of another. Harris didn’t appear in the game again. His last two attempted passes were both interceptions.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” Fedora said of Harris’ play. “It’s part of it. If you play quarterback, you’ve got to make good decisions. If you throw a bad ball, you’ve got to live with it.”
Surratt took over for the rest of the game and threw the first passing touchdown of his career, rolling out to his left and hitting senior wide receiver Thomas Jackson on a four-yard out route for the score. And with one second left in the game, he took a shotgun snap and fought into the end zone for his first rushing touchdown in a UNC uniform.
By game’s end, Surratt had completed 18 of 28 passes for 161 yards and rushed a whopping 16 times for 66 yards. Fedora and Surratt both noted there were some throws Surratt would’ve like to have back. But the performance was still an eye-popping one.
Now, all the focus shifts to next week. Will North Carolina continue to sub its quarterbacks even though it appears one has the clear upper hand? Harris and Surratt both said it was the first time they’d ever been a part of a rotation like today’s. As for Fedora, he referenced the same idea that he’s stuck to since fall camp.
“I didn’t think there was a whole lot of separation going into the game,” he said. “We’ll evaluate the tape and look at it and see how much separation there is now.”