CHAPEL HILL—The pregame festivities inside Kenan Stadium for Zero dark Thursday certainly set the stage for a prime-time ACC showdown between the struggling 1-4 North Carolina Tar Heels and the undefeated Miami Hurricanes.
The rain falling at the kickoff didn’t seem to put any damper on the mood of the crowd in attendance. There were just a few empty seats in the corners of the stadium.
The Tar Heels received the kickoff and failed to get off to a quick start. A false start penalty didn’t help the cause. But a three and out it was. Tommy Hibbard booted the ball over to the Hurricanes.
Dominique Green provided the first shot of real adrenaline to the contest when he snagged an athletic interception of Miami quarterback Stephen Morris on third down. The Tar Heels were now back in business, taking over possession at their own thirty-eight yard line.
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Tailback T.J. Logan gashed the Miami defense up the middle and tight end Eric Ebron made a nice catch to move the Tar Heels down into Miami territory, but quarterback Marquise Williams tossed an interception in the end zone to disappoint the Carolina crowd.
A 59-yard run by Duke Johnson had the Miami offense knocking on the door of the end zone. But senior safety Tre Boston stepped up big time on the goal line, throwing Miami runners for a loss in back-to-back plays to force a field goal for the Hurricanes.
The field goal by Matt Goudis was good and gave the visiting team the early 3-0 lead with 8:45 remaining in the first quarter.
On the next series, Tar Heel quarterback Bryn Renner came up empty yet again when a pass to Sean Tapley on third down came up a yard shy of moving the chains.
Senior Kareem Martin made a nice tackle for a loss along with a quarterback hurry to lead the Tar Heel defense to a nice stop of the Miami attack back on their own side of the field.
Back on offense, Carolina continued to incorporate a quarterback shuffle with Marquise Williams getting numerous snaps. Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson was certainly holding true to his comments earlier in the week on employing Williams’ unique talents more often.
Lightning struck in Kenan. And it was registered by star tight end Eric Ebron. He scampered to the end zone on a 71-yard pass from Marquise Williams. It was Ebron’s longest career touchdown reception. He eluded two tackles and then was off to the races.
The Tar Heels seemed to be building on their momentum. The fans were roaring and the defenders were flying around the field with vigor. But a long bomb by Miami stunned the crowd and put Miami back on the doorstep of a score.
But the Carolina defense stiffened yet again. A Miami field goal put the score at 7-6 in favor of the home team.
Carolina got the ball back, but a controversial no call on some physical defending by a Miami cornerback left the Tar Heels in punt formation.
One of the developing stories on the night was the mounting injuries for the Miami squad. Player after player seemed to be dropping out of the contest. But credit the Tar Heel defense for some tough, physical play.
Carolina was back at work with a few ticks left in the first quarter. And T.J. Logan continued to pound away on the ground, carrying the load, and bringing an end to the first quarter of action on Zero Dark Thursday.
At the close of the first quarter, Ebron already had amassed 101 yards receiving to go along with his touchdown that gave UNC a one point lead at 7-6. Meanwhile, Miami rusher Duke Johnson had tallied 83 yards.
The Tar Heels didn’t waste any time moving the ball down the field to start the second quarter. Renner whistled a perfect ball to a wide open Quinshad Davis to set up a great scoring opportunity inside the Miami 20-yard line. But the Miami defense rose up and forced a long field goal attempt for Carolina.
And disaster struck for the Tar Heels next. A blocked field goal fell into the hands of Miami’s Gunter, and he ran it all the way back to end zone to put the Hurricanes up 13-7 and silence the crowd.
With 12:33 left in the half, the stunned Carolina offense took up the ball now facing a six-point deficit. But the proceedings didn’t seem to faze the Tar Heels as they marched the ball right back down the field on the heels of an explosive 16-yard run by A.J. Blue and some strong passing by senior signal caller Renner.
And the scoring drive was capped off with a pass to Davis for a touchdown. The Tar Heels reclaimed the lead at 14-13 with 9:50 left in the half.
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Miami was back in the saddle. And a blown assignment by the Tar Heel secondary on third down gave away a huge chunk of yardage to the Miami offense as Morris connected for a 42-yard completion to Allen Hurns.
But this time it was Tre Boston to the rescue. He picked off Morris to return the ball to Carolina. The Carolina defense was delivering an inspired performance in Chapel Hill and in front of a nationally televised audience.
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Back with possession, Marquise Williams picked up fourteen yards on a quarterback keeper to get the Tar Heels moving the ball back down the field in pursuit of another score.
A healthy dose of Logan and Ebron continued to progress the football. And the drive was finished with a successful 25-yard field goal by Thomas Moore.
With the score at 17-13 and 3:26 left in the half, Miami took over once again on offense. And the struggles continued for Hurricane quarterback Morris. A punt was the result of the series.
And the half came to a close with the scoreboard reading in favor of the team in black Nike uniforms. Carolina was ahead going into the locker room, 17-13.
The halftime stats showed why the game was proving to be so tight. The total yardage was almost dead even with Carolina racking up 291 yards and Miami notching 288 of their own. The first downs favored UNC 13-7 and the time of possession edge went to the Tar Heels as well by just over three minutes.
According to ESPN, Ebron’s 144 yard total was the highest yardage accumulated in a half by any tight end in the nation so far this college football season.
Miami got the ball first to start the second half and did a nice job moving into Carolina territory quickly with some timely patterns. But Kareem Martin delivered a massive blow to quarterback Morris to get a sack and force a field goal attempt for the Hurricanes.
And Goudis missed the field goal to keep the score locked at 17-13.
Ebron added a reception that pushed him up to 167 yards. That was good enough for the UNC single game record for yards by a tight end. And boy, the Tar Heels were clicking on all cylinders now.
Ryan Switzer slashed ahead for a quality pick-up. The vaunted Hurricane defense seemed to be back on their heels against the fast-pace offense of the Tar Heels.
A costly pass interference call on Miami handed a first down to Carolina. But the Tar Heels returned the penalty favor with a chop block that set them back 15 yards. Coach Fedora was furious on the sidelines.
Ultimately, it was Thomas Moore trotting onto the field for a 35-yard field goal attempt. And the ball sailed through the uprights to give UNC a 20-13 lead with 6:59 left in the third quarter.
Miami advanced across the fifty yard line in their next series with ease. And again, Morris was able to find an open receiver to convert on a crucial third down to push the Canes deeper into Carolina territory.
But another Miami drive was halted by a pass landing into the wrong team’s hands.
The theme of the night was quickly becoming turnovers. With the interception by UNC’s Norkeithus Otis, the Tar Heels had already totaled up three picks on the evening. The crowd was going wild with 3:24 left in the third quarter.
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T.J. Logan continued his fine play on the ensuing Tar Heel drive, surging ahead for first down yardage. The Tar Heels were slicing and dicing down the field playing at warp speed and mixing it up well. Renner even carried the ball himself for some extra yardage.
The decibel level at the end of the third quarter was deafening inside Kenan Stadium. The crowd could sense an upset with their team now looking to stretch the lead. And the Tar Heel sideline was filled with spirit and passion now heading into the final 15 minutes of the contest.
The 12-play, 76-yard drive stalled out, but another Moore field goal was critical, placing UNC up by more than a touchdown at 23-13.
There was still plenty of time left in this one, however. But Miami knew they needed to make something happen soon. And they played like it, zipping their way down inside the Carolina red zone.
Dallas Crawford bashed his way in for the touchdown to narrow the gap to three points with 11:29 to play. That was a statement drive for the Hurricanes.
The pressure was squarely back on Carolina’s shoulders. How would Bryn Renner handle it?
With a three and out. Hibbard punted the ball back into the hands of the surging men from Miami.
And would you believe it? Another interception for the Tar Heels makes it four on the night. Dominique Green grabbed this one to set UNC’s offense back up for a chance at more points.
T.J. Thorpe tight-roped his way up the sidelines to pick up big yardage. But Renner returned the favor by throwing an interception of his own to give the ball right back to Miami. The game was quickly turning into a game of hot potato. No one seemed to want to hold on to the ball.
With 7:59 left on the clock, Miami was unable to do anything with the ball. And it was Carolina’s ball again with the game hanging in the balance.
A rough delay of game penalty on Carolina eliminated their third and short. And a play later, Renner was sacked by a swarming Miami defense.
Hibbard launched the ball a whopping 54 yards to pin Miami back inside their own 10-yard line with 4:11 left in the Thursday night affair.
But the Hurricanes put together a methodical drive right down the throats of the Tar Heel defense. And with 1:40 remaining in the contest, Miami had the ball at the Carolina 36-yard line.
The tension was palpable in Kenan Stadium as the Tar Heels took a timeout with 53 ticks left on the clock to get set for a third and three for Miami.
Miami bashed ahead for the first down and then Morris completed a touchdown to Waters to get inside the 12 yard line of Carolina. And with the drama building, Miami Head Coach Al Golden called a time out with 25 seconds to go.
Miami scored the go-ahead touchdown to claim a 27-23 lead with 16 seconds left to go in the game.
But the Tar Heels didn’t go down without a fight. Eric Ebron hauled in a long pass to give Carolina a sniff at the end zone to end the game.
And that’s the way it ended. Miami escaped with the win. And the Tar Heels were left shaking their heads, dropping to 1-5.