True first-year quarterback Sam Howell converted a fourth and 17 and, four plays later, hit Dazz Newsome for a touchdown in the back right corner of the end zone to lead North Carolina over Miami, 28-25, Saturday night at Kenan Stadium.
With the win in their home opener and head coach Mack Brown’s official return to Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels are 2-0 for the first time since 2014. The Hurricanes fell to 0-2.
UNC couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Howell connected with Antoine Green for 39 yards, which led to an opening-drive field goal. Then, after the defense forced a three-and-out, he hit Dyami Brown streaking down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown — on the first snap of North Carolina’s second drive at that.
Less than four minutes into the first quarter, the Tar Heels were up 10-0.
The Hurricanes came back with a solid drive of their own, which ended in a 50-yard field goal. North Carolina followed up with a 75-yard drive for another touchdown — this one from running back Javonte Williams, who burst out of a mass of bodies for a two-yard score
UNC held that 17-3 lead through the first quarter. The Hurricanes threatened on their next drive — kicker Bubba Baxa, however, missed a 24-yard field goal, and Miami came away empty-handed.
Hurricanes quarterback Jarren Williams continued to settle in as UNC’s offense grew lethargic. In the second quarter, North Carolina had five total yards. Williams threw a short slant-pass touchdown to cut the Tar Heels’ lead to 17-13 at half.
Noah Ruggles hit a 40-yard field goal for North Carolina in the third quarter, and Miami had a chance to tie the game with an excellent 75-yard drive that ended in a rushing touchdown. But senior defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge burst through the line for a blocked extra point, preserving a 20-19 UNC lead.
Timely sacks by Aaron Crawford and Tomon Fox stymied Miami on its next drive. After UNC’s Ruggles missed from 49 yards, though, the Hurricanes used good field position to execute an eight-play, 68-yard drive for the go-ahead score — their first lead of the game.
Howell then led UNC on the aforementioned game-winning drive; Michael Carter ran in a two-point conversion. Miami had a chance to tie but missed a 49-yard field goal.
Who stood out?
Howell threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, Javonte Williams rushed for a team-high 76 yards and linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel had 14 tackles.
When was it decided?
The nail-biting contest wasn’t decided until the Hurricanes’ field goal went wide left with just seconds left.
Why does it matter?
North Carolina, which has struggled in the fourth quarter in recent years, is now 2-0 thanks to two excellent fourth quarters in 2019. In front of a sellout crowd, Brown and company delivered — and collectively sent Kenan Stadium into a frenzy.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels travel to Winston-Salem next Friday to play ACC Atlantic opponent Wake Forest (2-0) in a non-conference game at 6 p.m.
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