By R.L. Bynum
Years from now, North Carolina fans will fondly reflect on the record-shattering career of quarterback Sam Howell while watching him pick apart NFL defenses.
There will be many more opportunities between now and the end of next season. But Saturday’s sterling effort against Wake Forest will be one memory that will stick out. And it may be the one that helps put him in the Heisman Trophy conversation — if not this season, next season.
Howell ran for the go-ahead touchdown to top off an amazing day. He threw for an ACC-record-tying and school-record six touchdowns and a school-record 550 yards.
That sparked the Tar Heels (6–2, 6–2 ACC) to rally from 21 points down to beat the Demon Deacons 59–53 Saturday at Kenan Stadium and end Wake Forest’s four-game win streak.
It matched the largest second-half deficit overcome in school history (went from 21-0 down to a 38-31 win over Georgia Tech in 2015). The 742 total yards were a school record, surpassing the 721 yards against Old Dominion in 2013.
For the first time in at least 50 years, UNC has gained 500 or more yards in six consecutive games. The Tar Heels have more than 400 in each of their last 16 games.
“Legacy definitely means a lot to me,” Howell said. “I worry more about it as a team, how we’re going to be remembered as a team. I think we had so many times in this game we could just quit.
“We faced a lot of adversity in this game and just to keep fighting back and just battling back and found a way to win it. And I think that shows the type of team that we are,” Howell said. “We will be remembered as a team that’s going to fight all four quarters and get a shot to win a lot of football games and that’s what we did today.”
Howell converted on a third-down run during the drive that produced his 20-yard scoring run with 4:11 left. Javonte Williams added a 15-yard touchdown run with 2:39 left after Wake Forest (4–3, 3–3) failed to convert on fourth down.
Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman connected with Jaquarii Roberson on a 1-yard touchdown run and with Brandon Chapman for a 2-point conversion pass with 57 seconds left, but the Deacs failed on an onside-kick attempt.
Just don’t expect Howell to take credit for his big win. He was asked if he was feeling it and he turned the question around.
“I think you could say that,” Howell said. “I think, as an offense as a whole, we’ve kind of just got into a rhythm. Everyone’s making plays. The O-line’s holding up and we’re making some really big plays. I think, just as a whole on offense, we were just doing it for most of the game.”
Pressed again to describe how that game felt personally, he deflected again.
“I wouldn’t say it was much different. The main thing was we just had a lot of guys are making plays,” Howell said before crediting offensive coordinator Phil Longo. “Coach Longo had a really good plan and we were out there just trying to complete the plan that he had for us. Things started working for us early on and it continued throughout the game.”
Howell’s 550 passing yards for the game topped the school record of 494 that Marquise Williams set against Duke in 2015. Howell also had the fourth-best game at 443 earlier this season against Virginia.
Most passing yards in a game in UNC school history
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The six touchdown passes bettered the school record of five Howell previously shared with seven players.
Howell’s seven total touchdowns are the most in Kenan Stadium history. Five players had previously accounted for six: Kelvin Bryant vs. ECU in 1981, Maryland’s Scott Milanovich in 1993, Maryland’s Scott O’Brien in 2003, ECU’s Shane Carden in 2013 and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson in 2017.
“I would think that he is as proud as he’s ever been of a comeback. He will not care about his numbers,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “He will not care about the touchdowns when we run the ball and he throws it 22 times. This personality never changes as long as we’re winning.”
Dazz Newsome (189 reception yards), shown scoring in the top photo, and Dyami Brown (163) both caught two touchdown passes and Michael Carter (55) caught one. Brown tied Hakeem Nicks for most career touchdown receptions in school history with 21.
Williams had yet another 100-yard rushing game, finishing with 101 yards and one touchdown while Carter rushed for 77.
After a solid effort against Duke, UNC’s defense was back to struggling against the Deacs. The Tar Heels got very little pressure on Hartman but made a few plays when it needed to in the fourth quarter.
Chazz Surratt led the way with seven tackles, seven assists, one sack and two tackles for losses.
The sack was huge, tackling Hartman on a fourth-and-nine play for an 11-yard loss with 3:30 left.
“So, we had been running the blitz,” Surratt said. “He was kind of waiting for me to bull-rush him. I think the guard kind of slipped on me. He usually back-blocks me. I just kind of went inside and ducked my shoulder and made the play.”
The 112 combined points were the second-most in Carolina program history behind the 118 points scored in Georgia Tech’s 68–50 2012 win in Chapel Hill.
After Williams came up short on fourth-and-three on UNC’s first drive of the game, Wake Forest went 63 yards on nine plays to produce a 1-yard touchdown run by Kenneth Walker.
It took one play for UNC to even it up on a 75-yard scoring play with Howell hitting Newsome off of an RPO on a slant pattern at the UNC 44. He sprinted down the left sideline to the end zone from there with 7:47 left in the first quarter.
Dyami Brown made an amazing catch on a 54-yard pass to set up a 26-yard field goal by Grayson Atkins to take a 10–7 lead. Deacons cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor looked like he was going to get the interception, but it went out of his arms and into Brown’s hands.
The Deacs quickly retook the lead at 14–10 on a 40-yard pass from Hartman to Robertson after a 37-yard Christian Beal-Smith run. Hartman connected with Donavon Greene on a 17-yard scoring pass to start the second quarter.
In between, Howell then hit Brown again on a 23-yard touchdown pass to cap a six-play, 75-yard drive. Howell placed a pass perfectly over the shoulder of a wide-open Newsome on a 44-yard scoring strike to put UNC ahead 24–21 with 12:45 left in the first half.
Wake Forest retook the lead when Hartman fumbled into the end zone but the Deacs recovered it. That came after an amazing catch by Taylor Morin on a 28-yard pass play. After an exchange of punts, the Deacs drove 85 yards in 9 plays for a 1-yard touchdown run by Kenneth Walker and a 35–24 halftime lead.
The Deacs added to their lead with a 41-yard Nick Sciba field goal and a 1-yard scoring reception by Greene on their first two second-half drives to make it 45–24.
Howell lofted a pass over a defender to Dyami Brown on a 4-yard scoring play to cut it to 45–31 with 4:43 left in the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Howell hit Carter on a sideline pattern for a 46-yard touchdown pass to make it 45–38.
Howell tied it on a 10-yard TD pass to Garrett Walston with 8:19 left.
After games on seven consecutive Saturdays, North Carolina gets 13 days of rest before playing host to No. 2 Notre Dame the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, at 3:30 p.m. in a game to be televised on ABC.
North Carolina 59, Wake Forest 53