Tar Heels top Wake in epic shootout

In one of the wildest games in ACC history, UNC rallied from a 21-point deficit to beat the Demon Deacons

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (7) runs the ball against Wake Forest during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

North Carolina won a wild shootout against Wake Forest, topping the Demon Deacons 59-53 at Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

The Tar Heels wiped out a 21-point deficit, matching the biggest comeback in school history. That included a 14-point hole to open the fourth quarter, which also tied a school record.

The game was the second-highest scoring in school history and saw UNC set record for passing yards in a game and total offense.

Three thoughts

1. In a five minute, 16 second span from 3:01 left in the first to 12:45 remaining in the second, the two teams combined for 31 points (four touchdowns and one field goal) in 18 snaps, as the lead changed hands five times. The wild rumpus included touchdown passes of 44 (Sam Howell to Dazz Newsome) and 40 (Sam Hartman to Jaquarii Roberson) yards, a 23-yard scoring strike from Howell to Dyami Brown and a 17-yarder from Hartman to Donovan Greene. There were also non-scoring runs of 37 yards (Christian Beal-Smith), 20 (Michael Carter) and a non-scoring pass of 38 yards (Hartman to Greene) as both teams raced up and down the field averaging 16.8 yards per play during that stretch.

2. With records for offensive output falling everywhere, the game was decided by defense. Wake Forest was able to pull ahead just before halftime, taking an 11-point lead after stopping the Tar Heels on three straight possessions — two punts and an interception. The Deacs then forced a three-and-out to start the second half, which gave them an opportunity to go up by 21 midway through the quarter.

3. Then it was time for Carolina’s defense to step up. After stopping Wake just twice in its first eight possessions (not counting a 24-second possession just before half), Carolina was able to hold the Deacons to three three-and-outs on the next four possessions, force four straight punts, followed by a turnover on downs, to put together a 35-0 run.

“The defense did a good job of making stops five possessions in a row, and we just kept putting points on the board,” receiver Dyami Brown said.

Number to Know

7 — A total of seven scoring drives by the two teams took less than two minutes. That includes four that took less than a minute. Carolina scored on a one-play drive (Howell to Dazz Newsome for 75 yards), a two-play drive (capped by a 15-yard Javonte Williams touchdown run) and Wake had a pair of three-play drives.

They Said It

“The thing about this team is we had so many opportunities to quit today.”

— UNC quarterback Sam Howell

Player of the Game

Sam Howell, UNC quarterback — The numbers are otherworldly and unprecedented at North Carolina. He had 550 yards passing, breaking the school record by 56 yards. His 571 yards of total offense was nearly 50 yards better than the previous Tar Heel mark. His six touchdown passes also topped the previous best in history. He also added a 20-yard run for a score, making him responsible for seven total touchdowns, breaking a school record that was set in 1981.

Critical thinking

Purists may not like it. There was too much scoring. It took too long. This isn’t how football is supposed to look.

Three yards and a cloud of dust fans will have to wait another week to have their complaints register, however. This was a matchup between two quarterbacks who will go down in ACC history as some of the most talented to suit up in the conference, and they were at the top of their games, throwing out touchdowns like beads during a Mardi Gras parade.

The defenses may have waited too long to show up, but we’ll allow it. As Mack Brown said, “What a great game. College football’s special.”