It felt like one of those games UNC fans have become so accustomed to over the last season and a half: one of those one-score losses, such as last season’s overtime loss against Pittsburgh or Virginia’s win over the Tar Heels just two weeks ago. Both of those games featured over 300 yards in the air and at least three passing touchdowns from Howell.
But Saturday’s victory over Wake Forest broke that mold to elevate UNC’s fourth-quarter team status to new heights when Howell carried North Carolina over the hump in one of the most prolific outings by a UNC quarterback ever.
The accomplishments began flowing for Howell when he threw his fourth touchdown of the day with about five minutes left in the third quarter. The four-yard fade to junior wide receiver Dyami Brown marked the fifth time in Howell’s career he’s dished out four touchdown passes in a game, and it jumpstarted a 35-8 UNC run to close out the largest second-half comeback in North Carolina history.
“Man, Sam is amazing,” Dyami Brown said. “He’s the best out there. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody, no (other) quarterback out there. He kept us going throughout each drive, throughout each quarter.”
Two drives later, Howell kept the offense rolling with a bullet to senior running back Michael Carter near Wake Forest’s sideline before Carter sprinted downfield for a 46-yard score. The play brought the sophomore QB to 484 of his 550 passing yards in the shootout — his final total being good for the new single-game record by a UNC passer.
Howell floated a 10-yard touchdown ball to senior tight end Garrett Walston to cap off the following drive with his sixth touchdown pass of the game, tying the game at 45 apiece.
You guessed it. That sixth touchdown was yet another single-game record for a North Carolina quarterback.
And if all the fresh passing records weren’t enough, Howell’s dominance culminated with a 20-yard keeper run up the middle to put UNC up 52-45 midway through the final quarter. The athletic scramble meant Howell joined former Louisville QB Lamar Jackson as the only players in ACC history with six scores through the air and one on the ground in a game.
“Our O-line did a really good job,” Howell said. “The hole was wide open, so I just tried to make a couple guys miss and get in the end zone. Just trying to make the play to end the game.”
As Howell’s name becomes permanently etched into so many chapters in his school’s record book, it’s impossible to not circle back to his coach’s comments and consider what type of legacy the young superstar will leave on the program.
With at least one more full season remaining in Chapel Hill to make his case as the best quarterback to ever don a UNC jersey, there’s still plenty of time to see if he’s capable of breaking his own records he set on Saturday.
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