CORRECTION: A previous version of the headline on this article incorrectly reported the score of Friday's football game as 32-17. North Carolina lost to Notre Dame 31-17. The headline has been updated to reflect the accurate score. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
The No. 25 North Carolina football team (6-3, 6-3 ACC) was defeated by No. 2 Notre Dame (9-0, 8-0), 31-17, after being kept off the scoreboard in the second half.
North Carolina came out strong in the opening possessions of the game, forcing a Notre Dame three-and-out in the opening drive and promptly punching the ball into the end zone with a connection between sophomore quarterback Sam Howell and sophomore wide receiver Emery Simmons to take a 7-0 lead.
Notre Dame returned the favor, taking a long drive to the Tar Heels’ goal line and into the end zone off of a rush from sophomore Kyren Williams to tie the game at seven.
Impressive play from Howell — who punched the ball into the end zone on a one-yard touchdown run to take a 14-7 lead on UNC’s second possession — led the way for the Tar Heels in the opening quarter. The Fighting Irish immediately responded, taking just two plays to get into the red zone. Quarterback Ian Book improvised from outside of the pocket to toss a touchdown pass to Williams and tie the game at 14 at the end of the first quarter.
At the start of the second quarter North Carolina punted for the first time, giving the ball back to the Fighting Irish. The two sides exchanged punts for the next three possessions, keeping the score at 14-14 with five minutes remaining in the half.
A targeting call against Notre Dame kept a dead North Carolina drive alive with three minutes left in the half, giving the Tar Heels possession on their own 46 yard line. UNC continued to drive into Fighting Irish territory, with running back Michael Carter taking a 23-yard reception near the red zone. The Fighting Irish forced a 4th-and-third for UNC on the Notre Dame 25 yard line, and graduate transfer kicker Grayson Atkins nailed a 42-yard field goal to give UNC a 17-14 lead with 1:10 remaining in the half.
The Fighting Irish entered North Carolina territory with 35 seconds remaining, and a pass interference penalty gave Notre Dame the opportunity to get into the end zone as they stood at the UNC 14 yard line, but the Tar Heels forced a 32-yard field goal attempt that the Fighting Irish capitalized on, tying the score at 17-17 entering halftime.
North Carolina’s first drive of the second half ended in a punt, but the Tar Heels pinned the Fighting Irish deep on their own three yard line. North Carolina forced a 4th-and-one, but the Tar Heels jumped before the snap, giving the Fighting Irish a first down. Penalties continued to plague UNC, as a pass interference call gave Notre Dame a new set of downs just outside of the red zone. The penalties came back to bite the Tar Heels, as Notre Dame ran the ball into the end zone to take a 24-17 lead, the Fighting Irish’s first lead of the night.
After another three-and-out for North Carolina, a 53-yard bomb from Book put Notre Dame in scoring position once again. UNC forced a field goal attempt, and the kick was pushed to the right of the uprights, keeping the Tar Heels’ deficit at seven.
The two sides exchanged punts until late in the fourth quarter, when a Notre Dame drive that started on its own 11 yard line ended in North Carolina’s end zone, giving the Fighting Irish a 31-17 lead that all but sealed the victory with less than a minute remaining.
Who stood out?
North Carolina’s defense was impressive, despite allowing over 30 points. A talented Notre Dame offense was held at bay for much of the game, and defensive stops from the Tar Heels gave them the opportunity to take the game in the second half.
With a young group of players taking the field, including highly-touted first-years like Tony Grimes and Desmond Evans, UNC’s defense put together its most impressive performance of the year given the competition. Graduate linebacker Chazz Surratt was particularly impressive, finishing with seven total tackles and a sack while helping to slow down the Fighting Irish’s potent rushing attack.
When was it decided?
Down by just seven for most of the second half, the Tar Heels’ loss was not solidified until Notre Dame’s final scoring drive. With UNC running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams stifled, the Fighting Irish were able to wear the defense out and punctuate their 14-point win late in the fourth quarter.
Why does it matter?
This loss was the Tar Heels’ first of more than seven points since Mack Brown returned to Chapel Hill last fall. Still, the scoreboard doesn’t tell the whole story, as UNC was able to hang tight with one of the elite programs in the country.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will be at home again next weekend, on Saturday, Dec. 5 for their lone out-of-conference game of the year against Western Carolina.
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