The No. 23 North Carolina football team used a 28-point offensive explosion in a 3:49 span in the third quarter to seize control in a 56-29 victory over Liberty in the home opener, improving to 1-0 on the young 2014 season.
With the loss, the Flames dropped to 0-1 on the season and will return to FCS competition.
After falling behind 22-21, Carolina ratcheted up the intensity and sped away from the competition.
“I think they were upset with where we were in the first half. There wasn’t a whole lot of talking from the coaches. The energy from the team at halftime and in the third quarter was created just from the energy they brought. They had as much energy in the third quarter as they did in the first quarter. I was proud of them,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said in his postgame press conference.
***Listen to Coach Fedora’s postgame remarks***
Marquise Williams started at quarterback and went 19-26 for 169 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky made his first collegiate appearance and finished 10-16 for 66 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Tar Heels wasted no time getting on the scoreboard early with a strike from junior quarterback Williams to receiver Bug Howard to stake the home team out to a 7-0 lead with 11:25 to play in the first quarter.
The offensive efficiency wouldn’t last, however, with Carolina struggling to keep drives alive with some careless penalties and sloppy passes from Williams.
At the 4:44 mark in the opening quarter, Liberty’s redshirt freshman Todd Macon dove into the end zone from one yard out to knot the contest up at 7-7 with 4:44 on the first quarter clock.
Carolina answered right back with a 6-play, 57-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by junior Romar Morris that pushed the Tar Heels back ahead, 14-7 with 3:22 left in the first quarter.
UNC struggled to maintain control of the game in the second quarter as the sloppiness and yellow flags continued. Carolina’s senior place kicker Thomas Moore pushed a 44-yard field goal attempt wide right with eight minutes left in the half to make matters worse.
That miscue was followed up by a wild snap on a punt that resulted in a safety for the Flames when the ball was kicked out of the back of the end zone. The scoreboard stood at 14-9 with 5:09 left until intermission.
A methodical drive orchestrated by Liberty junior signal caller Josh Woodrum was capped off by a one-yard touchdown by junior running back D.J. Abnar that pushed the underdog Flames ahead 15-14 with 1:37 remaining before halftime.
Playing with a sense of urgency for the first time on the night, the Tar Heels exploded for a quick score of their own thanks to 3-yard touchdown dash by quarterback Williams that gave UNC a 21-15 advantage as the teams jogged off the field and into the locker room.
The two teams traded the ball back and forth in the opening stages of the second half as UNC failed to take advantage of good field position when Williams tossed his second interception into the hands of Flame sophomore safety Gary Sampson in the end zone with 11:40 left in the third quarter.
Liberty struck with a fumble recovery return for a touchdown with 9:25 on the third quarter clock. It was the Flames’ senior linebacker Nick Sigmon who scored after UNC receiver Davis dropped the ball on the turf. The underdog Flames held a 22-21 edge.
After some struggles by Williams, Coach Fedora elected to send Trubisky back on the field to lead the UNC offense. But the redshirt freshman failed to provide a spark on call.
But the game would soon take a positive turn for the Carolina crowd. A 33-yard touchdown toss from Williams to unheralded sophomore Mack Hollins pushed UNC ahead 28-22 and a dramatic interception return for a touchdown by junior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer. The Tar Heels grabbed a 35-22 lead with 5:42 on the third quarter clock.
But the snowball kept rolling down the hill, building momentum as UNC found their form. This time, the scoring frenzy continued with a fumble recovery that Carolina capitalized on with a 18-yard Williams scamper into the end zone to push the game out of reach at 42-22.
And after a Jack Tabb scoring grab from Trubisky soon after, the Tar Heels found themselves ahead 49-22. In total, 28 points were scored in a mere 3:49 for UNC to put the game away for good.
Liberty was able to recover for some more spirited play in the final 15 minutes, but the outcome was a mere formality as the Kenan Stadium crowd left happy with the comfortable UNC win.
Next up for the Tar Heels is another game under the lights in Chapel Hill. This time, the San Diego State Aztecs come to town for an 8 p.m. kickoff Sept. 6.