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Monday December 6th

No. 21 UNC football runs away from Virginia late, 59-39

UNC junior quarterback Sam Howell (7) throws the ball down the field in the Tar Heels' home football game in Kenan Memorial Stadium against the University of Virginia Cavaliers on Sept. 18, 2021. The Tar Heels won 59-39.
Buy Photos UNC junior quarterback Sam Howell (7) throws the ball down the field in the Tar Heels' home football game in Kenan Memorial Stadium against the University of Virginia Cavaliers on Sept. 18, 2021. The Tar Heels won 59-39.

Despite squandering a 17-point first half lead, the No. 21 North Carolina football team (2-1, 1-1 ACC) put on a dominant offensive display to run away from Virginia (2-1, 0-1 ACC), 59-39.

What happened?

After tallying a career-high 104 rushing yards last week against Georgia State, UNC junior quarterback Sam Howell began the Tar Heels’ opening drive with a designed run to pick up a first down. Three plays later, he found sophomore wide receiver Josh Downs on the right side of the field, who outran several Cavalier defenders for a 59-yard score.

When Virginia regained possession, quarterback Brennan Armstrong found receiver Dontayvion Wicks up the seam for a 49-yard gain to move the ball to the UNC 19-yard line. However, Armstrong fumbled two plays later to hand the ball back to the Tar Heels. Following two explosive runs by graduate transfer running back Ty Chandler, Howell found Downs in the end zone once again on a diving 37-yard grab to extend the lead to 14.

Virginia was able to gain some offensive rhythm to the tune of a 10-play, 72-yard scoring drive capped off by a touchdown run by Wayne Taulapapa, but UNC immediately had an answer. Howell hit sophomore receiver Khafre Brown on a slant, who took it 75 yards for a touchdown on the opening play of the drive. 

After a Virginia punt, UNC drove down the field for the fourth consecutive drive but settled for a 36-yard field goal by graduate kicker Grayson Atkins to bring the score to 24-7.

The offensive spectacle continued on the Cavaliers' next drive, when Armstrong found an outstretched Wicks down the left sideline for a 40-yard touchdown to trim the deficit to 10 midway through the second quarter.

UNC looked destined to add another touchdown to its ledger, but Howell was picked off in the end zone by Fentrell Cypress, who returned the interception into Tar Heel territory. Virginia then capitalized on the solid field position to score another touchdown and make it a 24-21 game. After UNC missed a 54-yard field goal, Armstrong and the Cavaliers marched down the field for another touchdown score, giving Virginia a four-point lead heading into the break.

To open the second half, the UNC offense was jolted into prime field position after a 60-yard run by Chandler. Three plays later, Howell racked up his fourth touchdown of the night on a short pass to graduate tight end Garrett Walston to help the Tar Heels regain the lead.

After forcing a Virginia punt, UNC started its next drive on the Virginia 37-yard line thanks to a 38-yard return by Downs. The Tar Heels turned to first-year running back Caleb Hood to man the backfield, who delivered on several third downs, including a five-yard run that gave him his first career touchdown and UNC a 38-28 lead.

The Cavaliers cut the lead to seven with five minutes left in the quarter after a made field goal, but UNC scored once again after Chandler capped off his strong drive with a touchdown run that put the Tar Heels up 14.

On the first play of Virginia’s next drive, sophomore Ja’Qurious Conley intercepted Armstrong for his second takeaway of the season. From there, UNC continued to dominate offensively, en route to a 59-39 win. 

Who stood out? 

Evident in a first quarter stretch when UNC racked up 239 yards on eight plays, Howell led the way for the Tar Heel offense with 307 yards and five touchdowns in the air while also rushing for a career-high 112 yards. This performance marked the second week in a row he eclipsed the 100-yard plateau on the ground.

After being held mostly in check for his first two games in a Tar Heel uniform, Chandler broke through in a big way with 198 yards rushing. To lead the receiving corps, Downs continued his hot start with two touchdowns and a career-high 203 yards.

Armstrong led the way for Virginia with four touchdowns and 554 passing yards – a school record. 

When was it decided?

After scoring on its first four drives, UNC was on the doorstep of scoring once again and extending the lead to 17, but Howell’s interception led to 14 unanswered points for the Cavaliers – giving them much needed momentum to get back into the game.

But in the second half, the Tar Heels’ offensive firepower remained on display and the team tightened its screws on defense. The halftime adjustment to run the ball more wore down Virginia, and the 21-3 scoring margin in the third quarter ultimately powered UNC to the win.

Why does it matter?

The win snaps UNC’s four-game losing streak in the South’s Oldest Rivalry and keeps the Tar Heels on track to compete for an ACC Coastal division title. 

After losing over 4,000 yards of offensive production from a year ago, UNC was finally able to get contributions throughout the entire lineup, something the Tar Heels will look to carry into the upcoming slate of ACC competition.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will travel to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (1-2, 0-1 ACC) on Saturday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. 


@DTHSports |

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