CHAPEL HILL–The Tar Heels home opener against Middle Tennessee State proved to be a celebration of sorts. Kenan Stadium was a festive environment and the Tar Pit was rocking. What a contrast it was from the setback at South Carolina a little over a week ago. This time, it was Carolina evening their record at 1-1 with a resounding 40-20 victory.
But it didn’t start smoothly for the Tar Heels as the Blue Raiders marched the ball right down the throats of UNC on their opening drive. MTSU was on the doorstep of a touchdown when senior safety Tre Boston came up with a huge interception in the end zone to prevent the first points of the game from being scored.
The momentum continued to build for the Tar Heels after the interception, with Romar Morris capping off the five play scoring drive with a dash into the end zone. However, an aggressive two point conversion try failed for Head Coach Larry Fedora and Carolina went ahead by six points with 6:55 left in the first quarter.
A 59-yard pass connected for quarterback Bryn Renner. Mark McNeill hauled in the long strike to put the Carolina offense back in scoring position. And they didn’t waste the opportunity. Renner pushed the ball across the line to post a 13-0 lead at the close of the first quarter.
In total for the first quarter, Bryn Renner completed all four of his passes for 95 yards and Romar Morris gained 32 yards on the ground for the offense that appeared to be clicking early and often.
The second quarter started slowly for Carolina, unable to find their rhythm moving the football. But the defense sure didn’t crumble. Cornerback Tim Scott picked off one of Logan Kilgore’s passes to give UNC another crack at some points.
Some varied play calling kept the Blue Raider defense off balance as the Tar Heels began to pick their way down the football field with the aid of AJ Blue’s legs and Sean Tapley’s arms.
However, Bryn Renner’s 140 consecutive pass attempts without an interception came to a close when the Blue Raiders snagged a misfired throw to take over with almost nine minutes left in the half.
Once again, bandit defender Norkeithus Otis was all over the field, seemingly in on every tackle for Carolina. And UNC forced a three and out for the Blur Raiders.
A forty three yard reception by Tapley put Carolina back on the MTSU side of the field. The crowd was roaring for the Tar Heel offensive explosion that continued when Renner found Tabb for a thirty yard gain. And Romar Morris hammered in the touchdown to post a 20-0 lead for Carolina.
More good pressure was put on Logan Kilgore by Otis and company on the UNC defense to force yet another punt for the Blue Raiders.
In the waning seconds of the first half, Carolina began another assault on the end zone, but the pass in the corner to Quinshad Davis landed just barely out of bounds. But kicker Thomas Moore tacked on a field goal from 39 yards out to give Carolina a 23-0 halftime lead.
At the half, Carolina had outgained MTSU 326 to 99 yards of offense. Renner went 11 for 14 on his pass attempts and totaled 219 yards through the air while running back Morris tallied 43 yards off the ground.
The Blue Raiders started the second half with a lot of fight despite the large deficit, polishing off an impressive drive with a 22-yard touchdown run by Jordan Park. The score was cut to 23-7.
The next Tar Heel offensive series was uneventful, resulting in a punt scenario to hand the ball back to the Blue Raiders with a lot of confidence growing.
In a pivotal part of the game, the dynamic MTSU offense began to slash through the UNC defense once again, gaining confidence and momentum with each and every play. Missed tackles added to the Tar Heel woes.
But the third interception of the day bailed out Carolina once again. Darien Rankin earned his fourth career interception at just the right moment for UNC.
Would the Tar Heels reclaim the momentum and reassert their authority on the contest? UNC began to keep the ball on the ground, riding Blue and Morris to grind out yardage up the middle on a smaller defensive line for MTSU.
The drive ended with another Thomas Moore field goal that went through the uprights from 35 yards out to give UNC a nineteen point lead at 26-7 with 3:06 left in the third quarter.
Kilgore continued to find some holes in the UNC secondary on the ensuing drive as the Blue Raiders quickly moved out across the 50-yard line. But the Tar Heel defense answered the bell, highlighted by a Kareem Martin sack that handed the balls back to Renner and the offense to try and get something going.
It was Carolina’s offense that would open proceedings in the final quarter with a third down play. And a punt was a result-marking the third three and out of the second half for a sputtering Tar Heel offense.
More trouble for Carolina continued when Ryan Switzer fumbled and the Blue Raiders picked it up and returned it for a touchdown to narrow the gap with the score sitting at 26-13 with 12:54 to play in the game.
That last fumble must have angered the Tar Heels a bit, because they responded emphatically with a powerful attack on the next drive. The eighteen yard touchdown throw from Renner to Quinshad Davis was a beauty, and set the score at 33-13 to let the Tar Heel faithful breathe easy.
MTSU gave one last ditch effort to get back in the game, making their way down to the red zone before being shut down by UNC on fourth down to turn the ball over.
In the final few minutes, Marquise Williams got some snaps under center for Carolina. He picked up UNC’s 25th first down of the day as the Tar Heels kept the clock running. Williams threw a touchdown to up the score to 40-13.
MTSU added their own response in the form of a successful touchdown pass to make the final score an even 40-20 line in favor of Carolina.
CHAPEL HILL–We’re on the eve of the much anticipated home opener for Tar Heel football, and the team is excited about performing in front of the fans decked out in blue and white for the 12:30 pm kickoff on Saturday.
Head Coach Larry Fedora says this week presented some unique challenges for his players as they had to install a whole new game plan for Middle Tennessee State in a few days time.
“This is really the first week for us if you think about it going into a game plan that guys have to transition from one game to the next, put the other one to bed, and start learning the game plan in a short period of time,” Coach Fedora says.
Coach Fedora says the Blue Raiders offer plenty for the Tar Heels to worry about on Saturday. In fact, he says he sees a little of his own team in their offensive schemes.
“They do a lot of things on offense. When you look at them, they’re very similar to the style of offense we run. They’re going to be up-tempo, they’ve run the ball very well, they’ve got some receivers on the outside that can make plays, and the quarterback does a really nice job,” Fedora says. “This will be a big game for us.”
Good, crisp tackling was an issue for the Carolina defense against South Carolina. Coach Fedora says he understands the need for improvement in that area, but he says the injury worries always creep in.
With the difficult opening loss behind them, Coach Fedora says his team remains motivated. He emphasizes that all of UNC’s goals can still be accomplished by the end of the season.
“One game doesn’t make our season. And actually, all the goals that we have set have nothing to do with that first game. We do what we are supposed to do; people won’t even talk about that first game at the end of the year. No one will even remember it,” Coach Fedora says.
Don’t forget, WCHL has all your Tar Heel game day needs covered. On Saturday, tune in and stop by bright and early at 9:00 a.m. for Countdown to Kickoff with Ron Stutts presented by UNC Health Care live at Rams Plaza.
CHAPEL HILL– The Tar Heel football players are back to the practice grind this week in Chapel Hill. Working hard out on Navy Field, the team is looking wipe the sour taste of defeat out of their mouth in their home opener against Middle Tennessee State this weekend.
Freshman offensive lineman Jon Heck says practices have been wearing him out, but he says he understands that he needs to push through the discomfort to improve his play.
“It’s hot out, but we all have to push ourselves to the breaking point. I felt tired out here, but it’s on me to push myself through that,” Heck says.
Heck says the South Carolina contest was a memorable first game suiting up for the Tar Heels. He says playing against a top team definitely got him acclimated to the type of play required to compete at the highest level.
“It was one of the funnest experiences of my life. That was awesome coming out in that huge stadium against a good team in my first college game. […] I was happy to be out there and to have got some experience against a good defense,” Heck says.
This season is filled with firsts for Heck. And this Saturday will provide his first game in front of the Chapel Hill crowd. Heck says he is excited about the opportunity to get a win in a comfortable home atmosphere.
Talented sophomore receiver T.J. Thorpe says Coach Fedora’s offense is on the verge of clicking on all cylinders. Thorpe says the unit has been focusing on picking up the tempo even further and cleaning up sloppy mistakes.
“Just picking up the tempo. We can always go faster, and that’s usually our advantage. Being able to make more plays and mentally focus in, because after watching the film [on South Carolina] we were only a few plays away from winning the game,” Thorpe says.
Defending home field is something that Thorpe says is a motivating factor for the game in Kenan Stadium on Saturday. And Thorpe says the rowdy Tar Pit helps his team’s chances.
“The Tar Pit is usually pretty loud. We always have that advantage. And just the first home game of the season, getting back home, being comfortable, and being around somewhere in our back yard is something we take pride in,” Thorpe says.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/practice-makes-perfect-for-heck-thorpe