Persevering Tar Heel Seniors Go Out On Top

CHAPEL HILL– The UNC football team’s 39-17 win against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl Saturday was one to savor. But it was especially sweet for the senior class.

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Belk Bowl MVP Ryan Switzer says he gives the credit to the resilient seniors for Carolina’s ability to turn its season around after the 1-5 start.

“We had to have the heart to do it. I’ve never played on a team that’s done this before. I’ve never played on a team that didn’t let guys quit and tank it. I think that’s a credit to our seniors, and that’s why they’re going out with a win today,” Switzer says.

The UNC seniors have been through a lot. They’ve waded through the entire lifespan of the NCAA investigation, suffered the consequences of reduced scholarships and loss of postseason eligibility, and played under three separate head coaches during their tenures at Carolina.

And through it all and with little fanfare, the seniors have held their heads high and managed to overcome the distractions by doing what they know how to do best: winning football games.

Head Coach Larry Fedora says he’s proud of his team’s latest win. He says it wasn’t perfect, but the Tar Heels found a way to get it done.

“I’m really proud of the way these guys played. We didn’t play perfect. We didn’t play our best game. But we played well enough to win a football game. It was a great week, a lot of fun, and a great way to end it,” Coach Fedora says.

Senior safety Tre Boston persevered through one more challenge before hanging up his Carolina jersey for the last time. He was asked to play the linebacker position in the bowl game by Coach Fedora. And Boston says he was happy to fill the role for the team.

“Coach asked me. He really needed me. I was more than happy to do it for him and help show my versatility,” Boston says.

Fittingly, Boston snagged an interception in the waning minutes of the game. He says he felt God might have had a hand in the play.

“It’s a blessing. That was [Dominique] Green’s ball literally. Foe it to be tipped to me, I was telling Green that was God paying me off for four years of hard work. It’s crazy the four years I’ve had here. I think that was a blessing to end my career like that,” Boston says.

Boston says the officials asked for the intercepted ball back, but there was no way he was giving up the memento.

Senior defensive end Kareem Martin finished in a flurry on Saturday. He wreaked havoc in the Bearcats backfield and earned Carolina’s first safety since 2009.

Martin says this turnaround season will likely go down as his personal favorite from his years at UNC.

“I’ve had better seasons here, record-wise. What we went through as a team starting off. Everybody wrote us off. […] Just to be where we are right now is the greatest feeling, and it’s the reason why this is probably my favorite season since I’ve been here,” Martin says.

The future looks bright for Carolina football, but a lot of that rosy outlook has to be credited to the fighting spirit and determination of the seniors.

Sweet Caroline! UNC Cruises to Belk Bowl Victory In Emphatic Fashion

CHARLOTTE– The 6-6 North Carolina Tar Heels dispatched the 9-3 Cincinnati Bearcats 39-17  Saturday at Bank of America Stadium to earn UNC’s first bowl win in its Charlotte bowl game history.

With the win, UNC finished the year with a 7-6 record while Cincinnati fell to 9-4 on the season.

Carolina wasted no time jumping out to a quick 16-0 lead with the help of a ferocious safety by Kareem Martin and a kick return by T.J. Logan. The Tar Heels controlled both sides of the ball with inspired play.

Freshman Ryan Switzer carried over his electric play from the regular season into the postseason. He set a UNC career record for punt returns for touchdowns with his fifth return on the year in the third quarter.

And as for Eric Ebron, he finished with 78 yards on seven receptions in his final game in Carolina uniform while sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams delivered a steady performance as a game manager.

Running back Ralph David Abernathy dashed to the end zone for Cincinnati midway through the second half, but the gap was too wide for the Bearcats to overcome as the Tar Heel defense stiffened to come up with crucial stops when it mattered most.

Logan received the opening kickoff for the Tar Heels. Quarterback Marquise Williams opened proceedings for Carolina, but it was a three and out for the offense.

On the opening punt, a Cincinnati player ran into the ball and it was recovered by Carolina’s Jabari Price.

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Ryan Switzer carried the ball around the end on the next play for a gain of eight yards. But on a fourth and one, the Tar Heels chose to kick a field goal.

UNC’s failed to capitalize on the good field position when Thomas Moore’s field goal missed the mark. Cincinnati took over and soon confronted a third down and six scenario. Brendon Kay picked up the first down with a keeper up the gut.

The UNC defense delivered on the next play when Nathan Staub sacked Kay deep in the backfield. A Bearcat punt soon followed with 9:19 left on the first quarter clock.

Junior tight end Eric Ebron hurdled a defender as he dashed down the field, moving the chains. A Williams pass sailed just too long to a wide open Switzer for a touchdown. Logan smashed ahead for solid yardage to set up a third down and one from the Cincinnati 48 yard line.

The Tar Heels kept moving the chains with a varied offense replete with crisp passes to TJ Thorpe and spirited runs by Logan. The drive was capped off by a two-yard touchdown run by Romar Morris to give Carolina the 7-0 lead with 5:40 left in the first quarter.

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UNC cornerback Tim Scott sacked Kay on the next Cincinnati offensive series and forced another Bearcat punt. Spark plug Switzer broke free for a bit on the return, but an illegal block in the back brought the play back.

Carolina offensive tackle James Hurst was helped off the field in an apparent ankle injury on the next series. And a beautiful Tommy Hibbard 59-yard punt pinned Cincinnati back inside their own 10-yard line.

With 2:25 on the first quarter clock, Kareem Martin broke through the line and ferociously wrapped up Kay in the end zone to record a safety for Carolina and notch the score up to 9-0 in favor of the Tar Heels.

And the free kick was returned for a touchdown by TJ Logan to propel the Tar Heels to a 16-0 lead with 2:12 remaining in the first quarter. Carolina had quickly seized all the momentum.

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Cincinnati crossed the 50-yard line for the first time in the game on the next possession, and as the first quarter expired the Bearcats had the ball second down and 10 from the UNC 21-yard line.

The Bearcats settled for a 34-yard field goal to get on the scoreboard with 14:17 left in the half.

A nice pass from Williams to Ebron moved the chains. Thorpe added a nice gainer out to the sideline after that. Head Coach Larry Fedora’s offense was firing on all cylinders.

And a fourth down conversion to Ebron kept the drive alive for UNC. On the doorstep of the end zone, the Tar Heels handed it off to Logan, but he came up just short of the score.

Jack Tabb caught Williams’ pass on third down for a touchdown that extended Carolina’s lead out to 23-3 with 10:16 on the first half clock. Carolina was having its way with the Bearcat defense.

Cincinnati needed to answer with a scoring drive of their own, but a Norkeithus Otis sack stalled their drive and forced a 46-yard field goal attempt. Tony Miliano missed the three-point try.

The Tar Heels were unable to get anything going on the ensuing possession. Thorpe dropped a pass that would have given UNC a first down.

The punters were getting plenty of exercise in this first half. UNC held Cincinnati to another three and out.

A vicious hit on Williams resulted in an automatic first down to keep the Tar Heel offense on the field. The diversity of the Carolina warp-speed attack was proving difficult for the Bearcats to defend. A first down catch by Sean Tapley was soon coupled by a pair of incompletions from Williams. The third down play saw a Bearcat sack that forced a UNC punt.

The first half winded to a close as the Cincinnati elected to run out the clock. The Tar Heels held an impressive 23-3 lead as both teams ran into the locker rooms at Bank of America Stadium.

The halftime stats sheet disparity wasn’t as wide as one may think. Carolina only outgained Cincinnati 189 yards to 134 yards and had 11 first downs to Cincy’s 9.

Logan led Carolina running backs with 66 yards and RD Abernathy lead Cincinnati rushers with 37 yards. Quarterback Marquise Williams went 11-22 for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Cincinnati got the ball first the open up the second half. And the Bearcats had a much higher sense of urgency on their side, slashing through the Tar Heel defense with a heavy dose of Abernathy on the ground.

But a massive sack by Brandon Ellerbe on third down forced a Bearcat punt once again. An electric Ryan Switzer punt return ignited the crowd. It was Switzer’s fifth return on the year, a career record for any Tar Heel, and Switzer shattered it in his freshman year and UNC’s overall seventh on the season, a national leading number.

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The Tar Heels led the Bearcats 29-3 with 9:38 left in the third quarter. But Cincinnati answered right back with a scoring drive capped off by an Abernathy touchdown run to close the Bearcats to within 29-10 with 8:08 left in the third quarter.

Ebron recorded his 60th reception of the year on the following drive, good enough for second-most by a tight end in ACC history behind UVA’s Heath Miller. And a gutsy grab by Switzer on fourth down kept the Tar Heel drive going.

The touchdown was cashed in by Morris from one yard out. The backs were running hard, and Carolina earned a 36-10 advantage with 3:32 remaining in third quarter.

Cincinnati broke loose and earned a first and goal scenario to start the fourth quarter. Shaq Washington polished off the drive with a touchdown to narrow the gap down to 36-17 with 14:26 remaining in the game.

A potential game-changing play followed when Thorpe fumbled the kickoff return and Cincinnati recovered inside the UNC 10-yard line. But the Tar Heel defense held strong, forcing a fourth down. Head Coach Tommy Tuberville elected to go for the touchdown, but the pass was dropped, killing all possible momentum for the Bearcats.

And UNC made sure of that. The Tar Heels promptly put together a back-crushing nine-minute drive that ate up the clock and resulted in a field goal and a 39-17 lead for Carolina. And senior safety Tre Boston’s interception on the next series sealed the 39-17 win for UNC.

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Tar Heels Seek Belk Bowl Victory Against Bearcats

CHARLOTTE– The 6-6 North Carolina Tar Heels out of the Atlantic Coast Conference will take on the 9-3 Cincinnati Bearcats out of the American Athletic Conference Saturday at the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.

Both UNC and Cincinnati lost close games in their regular-season finales to rivals Duke and Louisville respectively. Both squads will be hungry to cap off the year with a bowl championship and some momentum heading into 2014.

Cincinnati will be in a familiar environment in Bank of America Stadium as the Bearcats beat Duke 48-34 a year ago. The Cincinnati offense averages 33.3 points a game with quarterback Brendon Kay filling the starting role midway through the season and adding reliable throwing to the Bearcat stable of offensive weaponry.

As for the Tar Heels, sophomore signal caller Marquise Williams will look to progress in his development under center. Williams threw 14 touchdown passes while also leading the team in rushing yards. His dual threat will keep the Bearcat defense on its toes.

Junior tight end Eric Ebron will start his final game in Carolina uniform before he enters the NFL Draft in 2014. Ebron is the team leader in receptions, with 55, and yards, with 895, this season.

The game is scheduled for a 3:20 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast on WCHL, 97.9 FM starting with pregame coverage at 12 p.m. The contest will also be televised nationwide on ESPN.

Tar Heels Celebrate Christmas in Charlotte with Belk Bowl Preparations

CHARLOTTE– It may be Christmas Eve, but the 6-6 Tar Heel football team is busy preparing for its Belk Bowl match-up with 9-3 Cincinnati on Saturday in Charlotte.

And undoubtedly, one of the keys to the game will be whether Carolina’s improving defense can slow down a versatile Bearcat offensive attack replete with the play-action and screen plays.

Cincinnati ranks 15th in the nation in passing offense, averaging 313.8 yards per contest, and is 12th in third-down conversions, picking up first downs on half of the opportunities on the “money down”.

The first order of business for the Tar Heels, according to Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning, will be stopping the run.

“They throw the ball around a lot, and they’re good enough at running the ball. We’re going to have to stop the run. Their run game is somewhat similar to East Carolina’s and some of their pass game is. We got some bad memories of that,” Coach Koenning says.

Despite all the perceived troubles of the UNC defense, the unit has only given up more than 30 points on one occasion this season in that 55 point debacle against ECU back in September.

Coach Koenning says he hopes his defense has learned a lot from the season and comes out fired up and ready to roll from the outset in the bowl game.

“We’re going to have to play with a lot of energy and passion and be physical. Hopefully, we’ve grown from the mistakes we made during the season and improve,” Coach Koenning says.

Head Coach Larry Fedora says Cincinnati is a well rounded team under Coach Tommy Tuberville, a man who has a proven track record of success wherever he’s been through the years.

“They are a very good defensive team. Nobody’s run the ball on them very well. They’re sound in everything they do. Their guys are making plays for them. They’re playing hard. Offensively, they’re spreading it around really good, throwing the ball around, and doing some really nice things,” Coach Fedora says.

Kickoff is set for 3:20 p.m. Saturday. WCHL’s live on-site pregame coverage begins at 12pm, and the game will be televised nationwide on ESPN.

UNC TE Ebron Expects Coach Fedora To Use Trickery in Belk Bowl

CHAPEL HILL– The Tar Heel football team has put in a full week of practice this week in preparation for their departure for Charlotte to play in the Belk Bowl against the Cincinnati Bearcats Dec. 28.

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Sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams says the Tar Heels will need stick to their motto, “Smart. Fast. Physical,” in order to claim the bowl victory.

“I’ve been watching film. Those guys are some good ball players. We just got to play our style of football: Smart. Fast. Physical. We just got to go execute and do what we need to do to win the football game,” Williams says.

The Tar Heels won five of their final six games just to qualify for the postseason. Williams says this team understands how to overcome adversity.

“Everything happens for a reason. Adversity is always coming. That’s the biggest thing. We just hit adversity, and now we’re back again,” Williams says.

Junior tight end Eric Ebron will play in his final game in Carolina uniform against Cincinnati before departing for the NFL, and Ebron says he thinks Head Coach Larry Fedora is bound to have a few trick plays up his sleeve for the bowl game.

“I expect us to go out there and have fun. And there is nothing more fun than us going out there and doing trick plays and doing what we have been doing all season. I definitely expect Coach Fedora to think of some master plan and let us go out there and execute,” Ebron says.

Ebron says he knows the clock is ticking on his days as a UNC student. He says that’s why he is trying to spend as much time as he can with his friends and teammates.

“We’re either at my house or another player’s house. We’re all just together. Whatever we’re doing we’re doing it together. We know time’s really short and limited between us. We just try to do everything we can as a group,” Ebron says.

Coach Fedora says Cincinnati developed as a team over the course of the regular season, and he expects a tough test from the 9-3 Bearcats.

“They are a very good defensive team. Nobody’s run the ball on them very well. They’re sound in everything they do. Their guys are making plays for them. They’re playing hard. Offensively, they’re spreading it around really well. They’re a good, solid football team. They’re 9-3. There’s a reason they’re 9-3,” Coach Fedora says.

Tar Heel Football Preparing to Win Bowl While Having Fun

CHAPEL HILL– The 6-6 UNC football team was back to the grind on Monday at Navy practice fields. With exams over, the Tar Heels have shifted their focus to preparing for a tough 9-3 Cincinnati team in the Belk Bowl Dec. 28.

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Head Coach Larry Fedora says his team was eager to get back to business following the brief hiatus.

“We had a good workout Saturday morning, Sunday and another one today [Monday]. We’ve had three really good workouts this week. We had one last week. I think they were ready to get back out here and get going again,” Coach Fedora says.

Senior offensive lineman James Hurst says Cincinnati is a formidable opponent that features a defense that makes you earn every inch of yardage.

“They’re a great team defense. Early on, looking at it, it’s hard to find any holes or anything like that. You know you’re going to have a challenge, and they’re going to make you earn every yard that you get. We’re going to have to be consistent and put some drives together in order to put points on the board,” Hurst says.

Charlotte provides a friendly locale for the Tar Heels in the Belk Bowl. Hurst says he’s relishing the opportunity to play his final game in Carolina uniform inside the state of North Carolina.

“It’s great to have the opportunity to get such a big fan base at the game and finish at some sort of a home game a little bit. We’re excited about it. I’m sure our fan base is excited about it. It’s a great way to go out for us not being able to play at home for your last game, but being able to play in the state of North Carolina,” Hurst says.

Sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams went to high school in Charlotte. He says he’s looking forward to returning home to play in front of family and friends.

“It’s a big home game. It’s especially a home game for me. That’s where I played high school at down in Charlotte. It’s going to be unbelievable. A lot of alumni is in Charlotte and can’t wait to watch us play Dec. 28. We’re excited to come down there, have some fun, and just enjoy the time,” Williams says.

Coach Fedora says he wants his team to enjoy the bowl game atmosphere, a reward for a successful season. But of course, he says that doesn’t stop the desire to go win a bowl championship trophy.

“We’re going down there for our guys to have fun, but we’re planning on winning the football game. I’m sure Cincinnati is doing the same thing. We want to win the football game. We’re going to prepare that way, but we also want to enjoy it,” Coach Fedora says.

Bowl Game Carries Special Meaning for Tar Heel Seniors

CHAPEL HILL– The Tar Heel football team will be bowling in Charlotte on Dec. 28. 6-6 Carolina accepted a bid to compete in the Belk Bowl against 9-3 Cincinnati.

Head Coach Larry Fedora says he’s proud of his team for digging out of the early 1-5 hole and is looking forward to getting to Charlotte, a friendly locale for Tar Heels.

“I’m proud of our team. They fought back from a 1-5 record earlier in the year. We’re also extremely excited about being in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, where we have quite a few Tar Heel fans in that area. We’re looking forward to playing Cincinnati, a very well-coached team that finished the season 9-3,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora says his players were all excited when they found out the news of their bowl destination.

“They’re all really excited. They knew we would be going somewhere, but they didn’t know where. To be in Charlotte and in our home state, they were really excited and looking forward to it,” Coach Fedora says.

For the senior class, this bowl trip is even more meaningful. Coach Fedora had a chance to reflect on how much those Tar Heels have been through including three different head coaches and the full lifespan of the NCAA investigation. He says all of these factors add to their appreciation of this opportunity.

“These guys have overcome a lot. They came in at the beginning of a NCAA investigation and saw it through to the end and had to accept the sanctions against them. […] Some of these guys had five or six position coaches, a pretty unique group,” Coach Fedora says.

One of the added benefits with a bowl game is the extra practice time that comes with it. Coach Fedora expects his team will squeeze in 10-12 practices before the game.

But he says you have to be wary of burnout with so much more time to prepare. That’s why Coach Fedora says the team won’t be focusing on the Cincinnati game plan until later on.

“You have to be careful. That’s why we won’t start really preparing for Cincinnati until the latter half of those practices. I’ve been on staffs where you started very, very early in preparation and really the guys get bored with the reps. That didn’t work out too well. As we get into the latter half of our practices, then we will start implementing the game plan for Cincinnati,” Coach Fedora says.

Staying Local: Tar Heels Return to Charlotte for Belk Bowl

CHAPEL HILL– The Tar Heels will be bowling in Charlotte. UNC accepted an invitation to represent the Atlantic Coast Conference in the 2013 Belk Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 28, in Bank of America Stadium.

6-6 Carolina will face 9-3 Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference at 3:20 p.m. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.

“I’m excited for our team, especially our seniors, who fought through some early season adversity and won five of the last six games to become bowl eligible,” Head Coach Larry Fedora says.

The Tar Heels will be hoping to improve upon their rather sour history in Charlotte postseason play. Carolina will be making its fourth appearance in the bowl hosted in Charlotte, but will be seeking a first win. UNC lost to Boston College in 2004, West Virginia in 2008 and Pittsburgh in 2009.

“This is a resilient bunch of guys that kept believing in one another throughout the year and I’m glad they were rewarded with a bowl game. We’re looking forward to facing a very good Cincinnati team led by an outstanding coach in Tommy Tuberville,” Coach Fedora says.

The Tar Heels made history just to get to the bowl season. They are only the sixth team since the regular season expanded to 12 games in 2006 to start the season 1-5 and make a bowl game. And only Rutgers in 2008 came from a BCS conference.

The Bearcats will be making their second appearance in the Belk Bowl after downing Duke 48-34 last year in Bank of America Stadium.