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Up-and-down UNC football season ends with 38-21 loss to South Carolina in Duke's Mayo Bowl


Graduate transfer running back Ty Chandler (19) carries the ball at the Duke's Mayo Bowl against South Carolina at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Dec. 30, 2021. UNC lost 38-21.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The North Carolina football team (6-7, 3-5 ACC) fell to the South Carolina Gamecocks (7-6, 3-5 SEC), 38-21, in the 2021 Duke's Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday afternoon.

What happened?

After its defense forced a North Carolina punt on the opening drive, South Carolina started its drive from their own 7-yard line, but the poor field position was negated when Jaheim Bell dashed down the right sideline for a gain of 20 yards. Moments later, receiver Dakereon Joyner played quarterback and launched a deep bomb down the middle of the field to Bell, connecting for a 69-yard touchdown.

UNC’s subsequent three-and-out led to another South Carolina touchdown, with quarterback Zeb Noland finding Bell on a slant route, who ran 66 yards into the end zone. The Gamecocks successfully converted a two-point attempt, extending the lead to 15-0 within the first eight minutes of the game.

The North Carolina offense continued to sputter with another three-and-out. The Gamecocks marched down the field on an eight-play, 54-yard drive capped off by a 30-yard field goal from Parker White, augmenting the lead to 18-0.

North Carolina found some momentum in the second quarter, with senior running back British Brooks escaping for a 63-yard touchdown, the longest in the bowl game's history. UNC forced a punt, and Howell also started to find rhythm, finding sophomore receiver Josh Downs and Green for 34 and 23-yard gains. However, North Carolina settled for a 40-yard field goal from graduate kicker Grayson Atkins after Howell was sacked.

South Carolina responded with a quick six-play, 75-yard drive. UNC’s defense gave up another big play for a touchdown, but this time in the run game, when running back Juju McDowell tore down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown, putting the Gamecocks up 25-10.

With 2:27 left in the half and South Carolina electing to send out their defense first, UNC took the field looking to score before halftime. Howell found first-year tight end Bryson Nesbit for gains of 15 and 14 yards, then lofted a 27-yard pass down the right sideline to Green, who made an incredible toe-tapping catch.

A few plays later, the Gamecocks forced a 4th and 1, which UNC initially intended to go for. However, a false start set them back five yards. With 44 seconds left in the half, the Tar Heels were forced to settle for a 36-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 25-13 at halftime.

South Carolina’s offense didn’t slow down in the second half, with Joyner completing two passes to receiver Ahmarean Brown gains of 23 and 26 yards. The drive was capped off by a short rushing touchdown by running back Kevin Harris, putting South Carolina up 32-13.

Downs caught a short pass the next drive and outpaced Gamecock defenders for 21-yard gain, which eventually set up a trick play, with Howell finding graduate tight end Garrett Walston for a 35-yard touchdown. Chandler raced into the end zone the next play for a two-point conversion, cutting the lead to 32-21.

After both teams traded possessions which resulted in punts, the Gamecocks opened up the fourth quarter looking to put the game out of reach. A 38-yard rush by Harris positioned South Carolina at UNC’s 20-yard line, but the Tar Heel defense forced South Carolina to settle for a 22-yard field goal, making it a two-touchdown game.

The Gamecock defense continued to suffocate Howell, forcing the Tar Heels’ fifth punt with under six minutes to play. From there, all South Carolina had to do was run the clock out and kick a 33-yard field goal, squashing any hopes of a Tar Heel comeback.

Who stood out? 

Howell threw for 205 yards and a touchdown, with Green hauling in four catches for 73 yards. Brooks led UNC in rushing for 72 yards on five carries.

Bell and Harris dominated for the Gamecocks. Bell had five receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns, and Harris rushed 182 yards on 31 carries, adding a touchdown.

When was it decided?

The quick 15 points South Carolina put up in the first eight minutes set the tone for the game, and proved to be too large of a lead for the Tar Heels to come back from. 

The defensive unit gave up eight plays where the Gamecocks gained at least 20 yards on offense, including two touchdowns longer than 65 yards. That — combined with a perpetually leaky offensive line that allowed four sacks  —  was a deciding factor in the outcome of the game.

Why does it matter?

The only thing consistent about North Carolina this season has been its inconsistency, and the Duke Mayo Bowl extended that narrative. The main concerns are akin to the end of last season’s — the offense losing an integral offensive component — as Howell is likely to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft.

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When do they play next?

The Duke's Mayo Bowl was the final game of UNC’s season.

@DTHSports |

Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.