After the Tar Heels gave up two passing touchdowns and 88 yards on the ground last Saturday to Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis, defensive coordinator John Papuchis prepared his unit for another dual-threat quarterback in Syracuse’s Eric Dungey.
“There’s a lot of reasons why quarterbacks get out,” Papuchis said this week at practice. “Obviously, that’s something that we have to be aware of and do a good job this week of keeping him in the pocket.”
North Carolina contained Dungey for most of the game and held the senior to 42 yards on the ground. But less than a minute into the second half, with Syracuse in the red zone, Dungey struck.
The senior dropped back in the pocket and didn’t see a receiver open. He stepped up, evaded pressure from redshirt sophomore defensive end Tomon Fox, dodged a sack from senior linebacker Cole Holcomb and sliced through the rest of the Tar Heel defense for a 16-yard touchdown run.
Dungey’s score gave the Orange a 13-point lead with 14:06 left in the third quarter. UNC’s defense would respond, though.
The next eight times Syracuse had the ball, North Carolina forced either a punt or turnover. But this streak ended when the Orange opted to bench Dungey for redshirt first-year Tommy DeVito.
Syracuse started its drive from its own 42-yard line, but took only three plays to score. With his team down seven points and 1:39 left in regulation, DeVito threw a 42-yard bomb to sophomore receiver Nykeim Johnson for the game-tying touchdown.
After the teams traded possessions with neither able to score, the game went into overtime, where the Orange’s offense took the field first.
UNC allowed Syracuse to score through the air on the second play of overtime. Then, after the Tar Heels responded with their own score, they couldn’t stop Syracuse’s offense in the second overtime.
The Tar Heels settled for a field goal in their drive in the second overtime and looked to stop the Orange from getting to the end zone. But a 10-yard run from senior running back Dontae Strickland set up a first-and-goal for Syracuse. Two plays later, DeVito tossed the ball to senior tight end Ravian Pierce to win the game.
Once again, North Carolina’s defense collapsed late in crucial moments of the game.
Antonio Williams’ career day
Junior running back Antonio Williams rushed for a career-high 116 yards and one touchdown. Williams’ previous career best came in the Tar Heels’ first home game of the season, when he ran for 114 yards against Pittsburgh.
The Ohio State transfer found his way to the end zone on a 12-yard run with 10:52 left in the third quarter to cut UNC’s deficit to six points. Williams’ touchdown also sparked a run of 20 consecutive points for North Carolina.
He also broke free for a 56-yard run that set up the Tar Heels at the Orange’s 10-yard line with a 4-point lead in the fourth quarter.
A UNC touchdown on that drive likely would have put the game out of reach for Syracuse, but the Tar Heels settled for a field goal instead.
Nathan Elliott threw for over 300 yards for the second time in his career
Redshirt junior Nathan Elliott also topped his previous career-best mark with 321 passing yards and two touchdowns. Elliott’s previous career high also came against the Panthers when he threw for 313 yards and two scores.
Elliott got help from the playmaking ability of his receivers, most notably sophomore Dazz Newsome and redshirt junior Anthony Ratliff-Williams.
Newsome had seven receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown. Ratliff-Williams caught nine passes for 79 yards.
Though the Tar Heel skill players had big games, Elliott was the one who made the right decisions with the ball. The 6-foot-1 Celina, Texas, native completed 34 of his 52 pass attempts and threw no interceptions.
With offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic out of options with injuries to redshirt sophomore Chazz Surratt and true first-year Cade Fortin, Elliott’s performance had to provide optimism for the team.
“I think most teams you see that are successful, (the quarterback’s) got to be good,” Kapilovic said. “Certain offenses rely more on them than others. It’s just a situation where you want to have consistency and continuity. When you get guys revolving through, it makes it a little bit tougher.”
North Carolina will need more displays like the one on Saturday from Elliott for the Tar Heels to have a chance to beat another ACC opponent this season.