North Carolina’s first football game in three weeks came down to a decisive conversion attempt on which two points were scored.
Only not by the offense.
The Tar Heels’ Trey Morrison didn’t just prevent the Eagles from forcing overtime in the final minute when he picked off a pass from Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec. He also put the game away by returning the interception 99 yards for a defensive conversion that sealed a 26-22 victory at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
BC (2-1, 1-1 ACC) put itself in position to extend the game by driving 69 yards on 15 plays to pull to within two on a touchdown pass from Jurkovec to C.J. Lewis with 45 seconds left in regulation.
But with the game on the line, Tyrone Hooper blew up the conversion attempt by chasing Jurkovec out of the pocket, forcing him to throw on the run. Morrison stepped in front of the intended receiver and took off in the opposite direction to give the two points to his team, instead.
Chazz Surratt then recovered the ensuing onside kick to give the Tar Heels (2-0, 2-0) the hard-earned road victory.
1. Quarterback Sam Howell and UNC’s much-hyped offense may yet put up the same kind of eye-popping numbers they did a year ago. But through two games this season, the Tar Heels are still struggling to find their rhythm. Howell’s numbers were solid enough — 14 of 26 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But there was just something missing. He was sacked four times and his one interception turned into a quick BC touchdown that helped change the momentum late in the first half. He also had trouble getting the ball to his top playmakers. Wide receiver Dazz Newsome had only one catch for six yards. And other than Morrison’s clinching two-pointer, the Tar Heels were held to just a single field goal in the second half.
2. For all the attention given to UNC’s offense heading into the season, it’s the defense that has shined the brightest so far. The Tar Heels held BC, which led the ACC in rushing last season, to just 40 yards on the ground with an average of 2.1 yards per carry. It also sacked Phil Jurkovec three times and while he did throw for 331 yards, it took him 56 attempts and 37 completions for him to do it. Only one of the Eagles’ two touchdowns came on an extended drive. The other came three plays after an interception that was returned to the UNC 5-yard line.
3, The thin line between winning and losing was actually a measurable one for the Tar Heels. It’s the one Howell was straddling as he threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Javonte Williams with 1:06 left in the first half. The UNC quarterback was flushed out of the pocket and was about to tuck the ball and run when he spotted Williams breaking free in the seam down the middle of the field. Despite being dangerously close to the line of scrimmage, he hit his receiver in stride for the score. The play was reviewed and upheld when officials ruled that while Howell’s front leg crossed the line, his back leg was still behind it — making the pass a legal one.
Number to Know
5 — The number of games UNC has won in a row dating back to last season under coach Mack Brown. It’s the Tar Heels’ longest winning streak since their Coastal Division championship season of 2015.
Player of the Game
Michael Carter Jr., UNC running back — Carter rushed for 121 yards on 21 carries, including a 35-yard run early in the fourth quarter. He also caught a pass for six yards. The big game was the senior Doak Walker candidate’s sixth career 100-plus yard effort as a Tar Heel.
They Said It
“I was reading to the field side and didn’t see anything come that way. I saw the quarterback to go the boundary and the running back free out. I saw the ball in the air and I went to get it … and ran it all the way back.”
— Trey Morrison, UNC cornerback
UNC showed some rust after not having played a game in three weeks and still has plenty of kinks to work out offensively. But to the Tar Heels’ credit, they still found a way to tough out a difficult road win against an improved Boston College team.
The most promising aspect of Saturday’s game — and the start in general — has been the performance of UNC’s defense. Considered the team’s weak link, it has been the driving force behind the both the Tar Heels’ wins. If coordinator Jay Bateman’s unit can continue to give such strong efforts, the Tar Heels have a legitimate shot at meeting their lofty expectations once Howell and the offense finally hitting their stride.