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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC falls to No. 1 Clemson, 21-20, after failed 2-point conversion

UNC quarterback Sam Howell (7) runs down the field. UNC and No.1 Clemson faced off on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019 in Kenan Memorial Stadium. UNC fell short of ending Clemson's 19 game winning streak, 21-20.

The North Carolina football team (2-3, 1-1 ACC) suffered its third straight loss of the season on Saturday to No. 1 Clemson, 21-20. After an eight-minute, 32-second UNC touchdown drive, the Tar Heels' 2-point conversion attempt – a Sam Howell rollout to the right and subsequent scramble for the end zone – fell short, and the Tigers left Chapel Hill with a win.

What happened?

The Tar Heels couldn't have asked for a better opening drive. They crossed the 50-yard line with Howell’s first pass attempt of the day, which was caught by running back Javonte Williams for 26 yards. The next play was a 40-yard bomb to Dyami Brown for a touchdown, giving North Carolina a quick lead at the 13:15 mark. Those would prove to be the only points of the first quarter.

After a missed field goal attempt and a punt to start the game, Clemson finally found its groove in the next period, putting together an 89-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 13-yard scamper from running back Travis Etienne, to tie it up.

After a North Carolina three-and-out on the ensuing drive, it looked like the Tigers were poised to take control of the game. But linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel changed the tides by forcing a fumble from Etienne up the middle, which was recovered by UNC's Jason Strowbridge at the Clemson 42-yard line.

The Tar Heels capitalized on the Clemson 10-yard line with a third down catch-and-run score from wide receiver Beau Corrales, giving UNC a 14-7 advantage with 7:55 to go until halftime. 

After a pair of punts, the Tigers put together an impressive 78-yard drive to tie the game before the break, punctuated by a 3-yard quarterback keeper from Trevor Lawrence with 33 seconds left in the half. At halftime, UNC, a 26.5-point underdog before kickoff, was tied with the No. 1 team in the country.

Then, a scoreless third quarter put the Tar Heels in a familiar position – in need of some fourth quarter magic to pull out a win.

At the 12:34 mark, a North Carolina drive ground to a halt when Javonte Williams was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 at the Clemson 45-yard line. Then, on a 3rd-and-6 from the UNC 38, Lawrence delivered a strike to wide receiver Tee Higgins, giving the Tigers their first lead of the game with 9:54 to go.

The stage was set for Sam Howell and North Carolina.

The ensuing drive eventually found the Tar Heels facing another fourth down near midfield, this time needing four yards to move the chains. Howell delivered the ball to Rontavius Groves on a slant pattern to keep the drive alive. 

Then, a 22-yard Williams run set up 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line with 1:46 to go. Williams punched it in on second down, and head coach Mack Brown held up two fingers. The Tar Heels were going for the win.

On the ensuing play, however, North Carolina couldn't convert. Howell rolled out right and elected to take it himself, but was wrapped up by multiple Tigers a few yards short of the end zone. Clemson recovered an onside kick attempt, and assumed victory formation to end the game.

Who stood out?

Sam Howell finished 15 of 27 with 144 yards and two touchdowns. Williams, meanwhile, posted 49 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while fellow running back Michael Carter added 99 rushing yards.

When was it decided?

It wouldn't be a UNC football game in 2019 if the result were decided before the fourth quarter.

Though the Tar Heels hung around much, much longer than expected, the game still ended with the heavy favorite walking away unscathed. UNC's failed 2-point conversion all but ended the team's hopes of a historic upset win.

Why does it matter?

The loss puts North Carolina at 1-1 in ACC play (a previous game against Wake Forest, which UNC lost, was designated as a non-conference matchup), and is the Tar Heels' third defeat in as many weeks.

When do they play next?

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The Tar Heels will look to regroup for a winnable road battle against Georgia Tech next Saturday at 4 p.m.


@DTHSports |