The North Carolina football team (1-0, 0-0) defeated the shorthanded Florida A&M Rattlers (0-1, 0-0) 56-24 in the Tar Heels’ home-opening matchup and the teams’ HBCU celebration game.
Both teams struggled to get offensive traction early, as they combined for just one first down the first two drives. On FAMU’s second drive, however, graduate quarterback Jeremy Moussa drove the Rattlers into Tar Heel territory, but graduate transfer Noah Taylor made a key sack, putting the Rattlers in an unmanageable third-down situation and forcing them to punt.
UNC took advantage of the defense’s stop, as redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye fueled a scoring drive that put the Tar Heels ahead 7-0. Maye rushed for 42 yards and passed for 31 yards on the drive, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to Kamari Morales.
The Rattlers responded on the next drive, as Moussa passed for 58 yards, rushed for 12 yards and capped the drive off with a 17-yard touchdown pass, tying the game at 7-7.
Maye continued to have the hot hand on the Tar Heels’ next possession, passing for 60 yards and completing all of his passing attempts. Sophomore tight end Bryson Nesbit caught just the second touchdown pass of his college career at the end of the drive, putting UNC ahead 14-7.
After a scoreless drive by the Rattlers, UNC’s offense continued to score. First-year running back Omarion Hampton led the way on this drive with a 13-yard rush and an 18-yard carry that put the Tar Heels in the red zone. Maye finished the drive with a fourth-and-goal four-yard touchdown pass to redshirt first-year Gavin Blackwell, putting UNC ahead 21-7.
The Rattlers trimmed UNC’s lead on the next drive, as FAMU conducted a methodical five-minute drive and scored on a five-yard run through the teeth of the Tar Heels’ defense.
North Carolina punted on the next drive, but junior cornerback Storm Duck got UNC the ball back with an interception. UNC capitalized on the opportunity, as junior wide receiver Josh Downs scored a two-yard touchdown.
The Tar Heels started the second half by extending its lead to 35-14 with a 65-yard touchdown drive. Sophomore tight end John Copenhaver led the way on the drive with 44 receiving yards. Hampton finished the drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown, the first of his college career.
FAMU drove down the field on their next drive, but UNC’s defense forced a fourth and long, prompting the Rattlers to take a 35-yard field goal attempt, which they connected on and trimmed the lead to 35-17.
The Rattlers forced a turnover on downs on UNC’s next drive, then trimmed the Tar Heels’ lead down to 35-24 after connecting on a 22-yard touchdown pass over the top of UNC’s defense.
After the Rattlers’ touchdown pass, UNC’s defense tightened the screws, holding FAMU scoreless in the fourth quarter. The offense kept its foot on the gas, scoring 21 fourth-quarter points and leading UNC to a 56-24 season-opening victory.
Who stood out?
Sophomore linebacker Power Echols gave the Rattlers’ offense problems all game. In his first start at UNC, Echols made 10 tackles, two tackles for loss and forcing one sack. Echols’ 10 tackles against FAMU mark his career high for tackles in a game, his previous career high being seven tackles against Wake Forest.
When was it decided?
The Tar Heels’ tilt with the Rattlers’ was close throughout, and while it appeared that UNC was pulling away early in the second half after extending its lead to 17, the Rattlers forced stops and scored points, staying within striking distance of UNC’s lead.
The Tar Heels put the final nail in the coffin in the fourth quarter, forcing a Rattlers’ fumble and scoring 21 points en route to a 56-24 victory.
Why does it matter?
Aside from giving the Tar Heels their first win of the season, UNC’s matchup with the Rattlers matters because it highlights some key areas that need improvement ahead of its next matchups.
The Tar Heels’ pass coverage was porous on the defensive end, allowing 279 passing yards and two receiving touchdowns. A potentially serious injury to starting junior cornerback Tony Grimes won’t help the Tar Heels’ secondary, but neither will UNC’s pass rush, which struggled to pressure Moussa and only had three sacks against a depleted Rattlers’ offensive line.
One bright spot from the Tar Heels’ defensive performance was the play of their linebackers Echols and junior Cedric Gray, but the rest of the UNC defense will need to step up in the coming weeks to help out a young, inexperienced offense.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will travel to Boone, N.C. to play in-state opponent Appalachian State on Saturday, Sept. 3 at noon.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.