Coming off a bye week, the North Carolina football team (4-4, 3-3 ACC) lost in a tightly-contested offensive shootout with No.11 Notre Dame (7-0, Ind.), 44-34.
Notre Dame got on the board first with a seven-yard touchdown pass from first-year quarterback Tyler Buchner after coming up empty-handed in its opening possession. The Tar Heels also responded on their second drive after being forced to punt early, with sophomore wide receiver Josh Downs hauling in a 41-yard pass on 3rd and eight from junior quarterback Sam Howell. UNC capped off their second drive with a three-yard touchdown run by graduate senior running back Ty Chandler to even the score at 7-7.
After forcing Notre Dame to settle with three points on their next possession, the Tar Heels also had to settle with a 39-yard field goal from graduate senior place-kicker Grayson Atkins, making the score 10-10.
The Fighting Irish recaptured the lead in the next possession, capping off a six-play and 75-yard drive with a 21-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Kevin Austin. To cap off the first-half scoring, UNC marched the ball 51-yards down the field but was forced to settle with another field goal to head into halftime down 17-13.
The Tar Heels came out of the gates swinging in the second half, scoring off a 53-yard run by Chandler to give UNC their first lead of the game, 20-17. The lead was short-lived as Notre Dame responded in less than a minute, scoring on a 21-yard rushing touchdown from senior quarterback Jack Coan to retake the lead, 24-20. After forcing the Tar Heels to punt, the Irish capped off their next drive with a one-yard goalline leap, extending their lead to eleven.
UNC bounced back quickly after facing its largest deficit of the game, scoring off of a wide-open 33-yard touchdown reception from senior wide receiver Antoine Green to cut the lead back to four, 31-27.
Both teams were forced to punt on their next possessions but Williams extended the Notre Dame lead back to eleven on their next drive, scoring off a one-yard rush after an early stiff-arm of senior Tar Heel linebacker Tomon Fox.
The Irish intercepted Howell on UNC’s next offensive possession and capitalized on the turnover with a field goal to make it a two-touchdown game. Howell responded loudly with a 31-yard touchdown run on the Tar Heel’s next possession, but Mack Brown’s group ultimately fell short of Notre Dame by ten points after the Irish milked the clock on the last drive and sealed a 44-34 victory with a 21-yard field goal.
Who stood out?
Downs led the way for the UNC receivers, catching ten passes for 142 yards, while Chandler and Howell led the rushing attack, accounting for a combined 184 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. Howell also threw for 341 yards and a touchdown, while completing 77 percent of his passes.
Williams led the way for the Irish offense, running for 199 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Notre Dame spread the ball out through the air with three receivers accounting for over 50 yards and two different receivers hauling in touchdown receptions.
When was it decided?
The interception thrown by Howell early in the fourth quarter ended up being the deciding factor in a contest with little defense to speak of. UNC had a chance to make it a one-possession game and the turnover prevented the team from getting much-needed points on the board after the long Irish touchdown on the previous drive.
Why does it matter?
The Tar Heels pulled a close one out in an offensive slugfest against Miami in their last contest, but they failed to do so against a tougher opponent in South Bend. With a chance at a much-needed upset to recharge its season, UNC was able to gain some confidence from hanging with the eleventh-ranked group but fell short of victory.
When do they play next?
UNC will be back in Kenan Stadium next Saturday to face another tough non-conference opponent in the undefeated Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Kickoff is set for noon.
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