UNC overwhelms Western Carolina on Senior Day

The Tar Heels scored on six of their first seven possessions in 49-9 rout of the Catamounts

North Carolina running back Michael Carter reacts following a touchdown against Western Carolina during the Tar Heels' 49-9 win Saturday in Chapel Hill. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

It was very clear, very early that the pumpkins weren’t turning into coaches. The door mice wouldn’t be transforming. With COVID regulations limiting the capacity at Kenan Stadium, Cinderella wasn’t showing up.

The North Carolina Tar Heels scored on six of their first seven possessions and pounded an overmatched Western Carolina team, 49-9.

“We have better players than they do,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “Everybody knew that coming into the game. The question was, ‘Would you dominate the game like you’re supposed to?’”

The Tar Heels answered with a resounding “Yes” early on, running up the score on the Catamounts, an FBS team who had played two games this season, losing to Liberty and Eastern Kentucky by a combined 107-31 score.

Three thoughts

1. It was Senior Day for the Tar Heels, who closed out their home season. Running back Michael Carter, linebacker Chazz Surratt, receiver Dazz Newsome and edge rusher Tomon Fox were among the players honored before the game. Unlike most year, parents were not allowed onto the field due to NCAA regulations regarding the pandemic. Instead, they recorded video messages played on the scoreboard for their seniors. The scene brought Brown to tears.

“I love my daughters. I love my sons,” he said. “I want to see them do well. Here are these parents, talking about their sons playing their last games and … shoot. I’m just … I can’t even speak to the kids when they’re leaving me. Then I walked in to do the pregame talk, and I said, ‘Aw hell, go play. I can’t do this.”

2. The Tar Heels led 42-3 at the half, leading Mack Brown to do something he’d never done before in 32 years as a head coach: He benched his starters. Previously, Brown always wanted his first-team players to start the second half, then get taken out in favor of reserves as the fourth quarter approaches. With a key showdown against Miami next week, however, he wanted to make sure everyone stayed healthy. So Sam Howell, Carter, Javonte Williams and Dyami Brown all called it a day at the half.

3. The NCAA ruled that this year will not count toward a player’s eligibility, so technically, seniors could come back for another season. Brown said that everyone that participated in Senior Day is leaving, either for the NFL, a job or as a grad transfer. Seniors who have told the coaches they’re returning are linebacker Tyrone Hopper and receiver Beau Corrales.

Number to Know

71 — The number of Tar Heels who participated in the game, according to the postgame box score. That was every healthy, available player on the roster, according to  Brown.

“Everybody on the team played, to my knowledge,” he said. “We tried to get everyone on the field so it would be a special day for everybody, not just the seniors.”

They Said It

“Hey, you don’t play good today, you’re not playing against Miami. Don’t come out here and stand around. You better compete.”

— Tar Heels coach Mack Brown to two young defensive linemen after Western Carolina had early success running the ball

Player of the Game

Sam Howell, Tar Heels quarterback — The sophomore was ruthlessly efficient on Senior Day, performing surgery on a Western Carolina defense that was no match for him or his offensive teammates. In one half, he completed 20-of-23 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He led the Tar Heels to six touchdowns, including drives of four plays and 1:05 off the clock; three plays and 1:17; five plays and 1:11; and two plays, 0:11. He also rushed for 41 yards, including a career-long 30-yarder to set up a touchdown.

Critical thinking

Power Five teams playing FBS schools almost always create a mismatch, and the thrill of the rare upset doesn’t come close to matching the usual result, which we saw on Saturday. Granted, UNC didn’t originally have Western Carolina on the schedule. The game was added after UNC’s nonconference game against Charlotte got canceled due to COVID testing and contact tracing on the 49ers. Still, the game’s fans got had all the drama and excitement of feeding Christians to the lions.