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Monday December 5th

Quartet of running backs, both familiar and new, lead UNC to 56-7 win over Mercer

Junior Running Back  junior Michael Carter  (8) runs down the field in  Kenan Memorial on Saturday Nov. 23, 2019. UNC beat Mercer 56-7.
Buy Photos Junior Running Back junior Michael Carter (8) runs down the field in Kenan Memorial on Saturday Nov. 23, 2019. UNC beat Mercer 56-7.

All year long, UNC has had a drama-filled season on the field to the point where junior running back Michael Carter has "started to grow gray hairs" from all of the narrow finishes.

However, it was obvious right out of the gate that Saturday's matchup with FCS foe Mercer in the final home game of the season for the Tar Heels was going to be a little bit more relaxing for North Carolina's running back group.

Just 90 seconds into what would end as a 56-7 win for the Tar Heels, senior running back Antonio Williams had acres of open space on the left side of the edge to glide through and ran the ball in for an 11-yard touchdown, his first rushing touchdown of the season.

You would think that erasing that zero from the stats column would come as a massive relief for the senior, but Williams made it clear that there were more important things on his mind in that moment.

“I’ll remember we blew 'em out, I’ll remember it was a great team win," Williams said. "But for me, my entire family was here.”

That's no hyperbole. Williams had 16 friends and family members in attendance for the senior day matchup. As the senior got off the team bus before the game and saw the people closest to him in person, he couldn't help but cry a little bit.

But, even in a game that meant so much to him, the New London, N.C., native didn't hog the spotlight from the rest of the backs after his early score.

On the next UNC drive, first-year quarterback Sam Howell handed the ball off to Carter on the sixth offensive play by the Tar Heels and the running back took full advantage of that opportunity. The junior shrugged off a Mercer defender before bursting through an open gap for a 45-yard touchdown that was assisted by some key blocking from sophomore wide receiver Dyami Brown. It was also Carter's first rushing touchdown of the season.

“The O-line opened up some good blocks, opened up some big holes, the receivers blocked on the perimeter," Carter said. "I know y'all saw Dyami’s block. I probably don’t score without that so credit to him.”

Carter added another touchdown with just a few minutes remaining in the second quarter that extended UNC's lead to 42-0. The junior had an open field to the left of the edge after another solid block from one of his receivers, this time coming from first-year Emery Simmons.

With both of his touchdown runs coming off key blocks from receivers, Carter admitted that seeing his teammates make plays to help him score was a huge motivation for him to perform.

"It excites me in a weird way," Carter said with a smile. "I see my teammate down there right with me and I gotta score now because if I don’t, I’m gonna come out the game and I let my teammates down because they’re giving it their all."

Carter opened the third quarter with his third touchdown of the afternoon on the first offensive play of the second half, a 60-yard run to the right from the Navarre, Fla., native. The junior's 159 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries capped off what he described as a successful outing.

“Just being able to execute at a high level," Carter said. "No matter who we play, it's something that we try to do every weekend and I think that we did that today.”

Once Carter's third touchdown widened the gap, the North Carolina coaching staff decided to play it safe and let the reserves see some playing time. Still, UNC's running backs feasted with the limited minutes they saw on the field.

First-year Josh Henderson and sophomore British Brooks combined for 108 of North Carolina's 376 rushing yards, with Brooks scoring the first touchdown of his collegiate career.

Seeing the young backups carry the ball well was the icing on top of the cake for the veterans of the quartet of running backs.

"The biggest thing for me was I was just so excited to see Josh and British get in there and run that thing," Williams said. "Josh was two yards away from 100, and British got his first career touchdown so that was the biggest thing for me. I just really enjoy seeing those guys play.”

Even on Senior Day, the Tar Heel running backs were at the forefront of everyone's minds and will be the aspect of the game that senior left tackle Charlie Heck — a player who has spent his whole time with UNC blocking opponents to help his running backs thrive — remembers the most on such a special day.

“Just seeing our running backs take off and just trying to chase them into the end zone," Heck said. "It was a big moment for me lifting up Michael Carter when he scored his first rushing touchdown of the season.”

@McMastersJ

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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