If you are a University of North Carolina football fan like myself, then you know how painful last season was to watch. The Tarheels finished with two wins, one against Pittsburgh, and one against Western Carolina. Plenty of fourth-quarter leads evaporated, along with uncertainty at quarterback.
If you are a UNC football fan like myself, then you were super excited about Mack Brown, our former head coach, being brought out of retirement to replace Larry Fedora, who was the head coach of the Tar Heels for seven years. Brown is one of the greatest coaches to ever come through Chapel Hill, as he previously coached the Tar Heels from 1988-1997. In that timespan, UNC saw their win totals increase tremendously, along with an appearance (and victory) in the Peach Bowl against Mississippi State in 1992.
What else should UNC football fans be excited about? The chance for the Tar Heels to once again obtain a winning record. Yesterday, the Tar Heels took a huge step towards that, beating SEC rival South Carolina 24-20 in a game that could have easily gone either way. It was the Tar Heels in the end, however, that made the big plays, which ultimately sent them on their way to a win in the Belk College Kickoff at Bank of America Stadium.
The Heels won the game, but it was not a pretty win. For most of the first half, South Carolina’s defense held UNC’s offense in check, limiting the Tar Heels to two field goals by sophomore kicker Noah Ruggles. In addition to the strong defense, Clemson transfer Tavien Feaster ran for a 34-yard score, topping it off with a beautiful spin move. South Carolina would go up into the half 13-6.
Out of the half, North Carolina received the ball but failed to do anything with it. The Gamecock defense would force a three-and-out, giving Jake Bentley and the offense a golden opportunity to extend the lead. South Carolina was unable to do anything early in the third quarter, but after Ruggles’ third field goal of the day, Bentley threw his first (and only) touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Markway.
After the third quarter, the tides would take a major turn. South Carolina would not score more than 20 points. Here came the Tar Heels…
First, true freshman quarterback Sam Howell, who might just very well be UNC’s quarterback of the future, led a 98-yard drive down the field, capped off by a Dyami Brown 22-yard juggling touchdown catch. After the defense made a stand, Howell led a 95-yard drive down the field that was capped off by another beautiful touchdown catch, this time a reception for 17 yards by wide receiver Beau Corrales. 24-20 Tar Heels.
After trading the ball a couple of times, the Heels would run the clock down to ten seconds before turning the ball over to South Carolina on a kneel down. Many thought that UNC should have either punted the ball or kicked a field goal. Instead, South Carolina got the ball back with excellent field position.
UNC would prevent South Carolina from capitalizing, however, as Bentley would be sacked by Chazz Surratt, UNC’s quarterback from two years ago, and defensive end Tomari Fox to run out the clock. Final score: Heels 24, Gamecocks 20.
The result of this game was more than just a win for the Tar Heels. It’s the start of a new era in Carolina football. An era that will once again see the Tar Heels continuously make bowl games. An era that returns one of the best coaches in college football (did I mention Brown won a National Championship at Texas)? An era that will see Kenan Stadium packed on Saturday afternoons (Carolina football season tickets are sold out for the 2019 season).
This game brought joy to Tar Heel Nation. It was filled with emotion, and that was evident when Brown was talking about how proud he was of his squad in a postgame interview. It was a result that the Tar Heels had not achieved since the 2014 season: winning their first game.
I am so proud of how my Tar Heels played. They should enjoy this win, enjoy an easy day tomorrow, and then shift towards preparing for their home opener against Miami (FL) next Saturday, which will be played at 8:00 P.M. on the ACC Network.
Welcome back, Mack. We are so happy to have you.
It is a good day to be a Tar Heel.