Four touchdowns in less than four minutes isn’t exactly 8 points in 17 seconds, but it will be memorable all the while. If you don’t know what “8 points in 17 seconds” means, ask someone over 45.
Not sure whether they keep such stats, but I don’t remember an offensive explosion in Carolina football history close to it. Of course, you can’t score four touchdowns so quickly on the gridiron without help from the other team.
And Liberty certainly did that, turning the ball over three straight times following a punt from inside its own 10-yard line to set up the four scores that turned an interesting-but-sloppy game into the Tar Heels’ first victory of the season before a fair crowd that emptied out as the rain started and the mystery ended.
The first touchdown was on a “same play” screen pass to Mack Hollins, who had gained seven yards on the previous snap. The former special teams captain and walk-on last season had never caught a pass in college before, but his second on the identical play resulted in his first college touchdown – 33 yards down the left sideline.
The next two offensive plays for Liberty were not good.
Linebacker Jeff Schoettmer also scored his first college touchdown by picking off the first-down pass and returning it 19 yards to the house. Schoettmer is a junior from Dallas who on the UNC media guide’s “Most Resembles” page supposedly looks like Packers’ all-pro Clay Matthews, also a long-haired linebacker.
Liberty fumbled on its very next first down, forced by Junior Gnonkonde (who is actually a sophomore), and recovered by Kedrick Davis, who actually intercepted a pass later in the game to douse the visiting Flames’ chances of a comeback. It took the Tar Heels six plays to score again (seemed like an eternity), Marquise Williams running naked up the middle for 15 yards.
It also took Liberty two plays to cough it up again, forced by Alex Dixon and recovered by Dominique Green, who returned it 20 yards to the Flames’ 23. That was Green’s second fumble recovery, but his first-quarter cover was turned right back over on the first of Williams’ two interceptions.
Red-shirt frosh quarterback Mitch Trubisky barely under-threw a TD pass to senior TE Jack Tabb on first down, and after true freshman running back Elijah Hood (who once bench-pressed 602 pounds) pounded out 19 yards on the next two plays, Trubisky hit Tabb on the numbers for an eight-yard TD pass.
The score at this juncture was Carolina 49, Liberty 22, and that’s probably how it would have ended if Coach Larry Fedora hadn’t cleared his bench and put the walk-ons and managers in for the fourth quarter when each team scored once more. The Tar Heels’ last TD came from fifth running back Charles Brunson, whose nine carries for 54 yards made him the team’s leading rusher for the night.
So the four-minute scoring rampage is pretty much all you have to know about the game, which opened with a three-and-out for Liberty and a surgically precise eight-play drive in which the Marquise de Sod hit all five of his passes, the last to Bug Howard for the touchdown. Those 61 yards took barely two minutes to matriculate down the field. Then came Green’s first fumble recovery followed by Williams’ first pick, and the turnover and fumble fest was on.
By the end of the first half, the game was so uncomfortably close that N.C. State barely beating Georgia Southern and Wake Forest losing to Louisiana-Monroe weren’t so funny anymore. After all, the blue-clad Heels had given Liberty two points on a botched snap to punter Tommy Hibbard who when he did get the ball picked up where he left off as a junior, averaging 43 yards a kick. In this game, Hibbard punted six times, one traveling more than half the field, and wound up just under 40 yards per.
He was a lot smarter, if not luckier, than Liberty punter Trey Turner who kept booting the ball between the numbers to Ryan Switzer, who almost broke two but wound up with seven returns for 70 yards. No. 3 is already more electrifying than, say, Giovanni Bernard when he drifts back or rushes in to catch a punt. And Turner was damn fortunate that the last tackler got Switzer a couple of times.
Liberty led twice in the game, the last time when Quinshad Davis could not hold onto to a Trubisky pass while being wrapped up, the ball squirted free and the Flames returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. A review ruled the play would stand, but it sure looked like the refs were slow to blow it dead. Davis had three guys hanging on him and was clearly going nowhere.
Trailing 22-21, the Heels erupted for those four scores in the next four minutes, and this one was in the books. Notable during mop-up time was the presence of No. 17 out at wide receiver. Jackson Boyer, whose brother turned to Twitter last week for the latest off-the-field fiasco, still has not said just how many Tar Heels were in the hotel room when he either got pranked or knocked cold. Reports are he wants the incident to go away faster than Liberty did in the third quarter, but his older bro is making that hard.
The four players who WERE involved served a one-game suspension, watching from the stands, and unless someone who was there steps up and says it was worse than reported, maybe game week will be uneventful for San Diego State this Saturday. Four scores in four minutes might also do in the Aztecs, and probably any other opponent on the 2014 schedule.