Howell gives UNC a different dimension on offense with his running threat, which he shows off in win at BC

By R.L. Bynum

The feet on one Tar Heel are making a more significant impact on games than last season.

They would be the feet of Sam Howell, North Carolina’s sophomore quarterback, who couldn’t take his chances on running that much last season because of the Tar Heels’ depleted quarterback depth.

A stronger Howell is taking advantage of his chances to run, and that helped push No. 12 UNC to 2-0 with a 26–22 victory Saturday at Boston College. UNC held on after some costly mistakes made it closer.

“Definitely, when I see space, I want to take advantage of that,” Howell said. “I feel like a lot of teams don’t really account for me as a runner. So, there’s a lot of space out there. Whenever I can take advantage of the space they give me, I try to.” 

Trey Morrison helped put the game away when he returned an interception on a potential game-tying two-point conversion pass 99 yards to add two UNC points in the game’s final minute. 

“I was reading to the field side and I didn’t see anything come that way,” Morrison said. “I saw the quarterback go to the boundary. I saw the running back flare out, and I just saw the ball in the air, and I went to go get it.” 

BC quarterback Phil Jurkovec had just connected with C.J. Lewis on a 2-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds left to pull within two points. Chazz Surratt sealed the win by recovering the ensuing onside kick.

After rushing for only 35 yards last season, Howell had five runs of six yards or more, including a 20-yard play, against BC. All but one of those were on third-down scrambles.

But it’s the threat of the run that gives opposing defenses something else to think about that is giving the Tar Heels’ offense another dimension. 

Opponents can’t just worry about covering UNC’s talented receivers. They have to deal with the possibility that Howell will make a run for it, as well as his ability to extend plays. As if trying to stop Javonte Williams and Michael Carter wasn’t enough to defend on the ground.

Carter ran for 121 yards and Williams added 57 and one touchdown as Carolina outrushed BC 176–40.

“I was probably more impressed with Sam making plays with his feet than ever before,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “He did some of that in the bowl game, but he made some huge plays tonight with his feet that’s really going to help us.” 

There was no better example than late in the first half when he was scrambling to make a play. While straddling the line of scrimmage, he threw a short pass right in stride to Williams on a 41-yard scoring play.

“When I saw him scramble, I just tried to get open,” Williams said. “When I caught it, I was wide open.”

There were times when Howell’s desire to extend plays got him into trouble and he kept the ball for too long when he’d have been better advised to throw the ball away or take a sack. In one case early in the second half, Williams bailed him out by recovering Howell’s fumble after being pressured.

Howell threw two touchdown passes to give him 41 in only 15 games, already tied for the fifth-most career TD passes in Carolina program history with Mitch Trubisky (2014–16). Fourth on the list with 58 in 45 games over four seasons is T.J. Yates (2007–10).

Howell finished 14 of 26 for 225 yards and one interception for a 144.2 passer rating.

It was another big game for UNC’s defense, which has given up 28 points through two games, the fewest against FBS teams since allowing 27 in 2009 to Connecticut and East Carolina. Surratt led the way with eight tackles (all solo) and one sack in addition to breaking up a pass and hurrying the quarterback once. Don Chapman added seven tackles (also solo).

UNC scored on both first-quarter drives.

Howell’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Khafre Brown completed a 12-play, 83-yard, 4:13 drive on UNC’s first possession to put the Tar Heels ahead 7-0 with 7:35 left in the first quarter. The Tar Heels went 3-of-3 on third downs in that drive.

UNC was efficient again with a 6-play, 48-yard, 2:24 drive that produced a 1-yard touchdown run by Williams with 1:21 left in the first quarter.

After Morrison’s big hit kept B.C.’s Hunter Long from making a catch, the Eagles settled for a 35-yard Aaron Boumerhi field goal with 3:46 left in the opening quarter. After another drop by Long early in the second quarter, Boumerhi booted a 27-yard field goal. He added a 30-yard field goal on the final first-half play to cut UNC’s lead to 21-16.

Morrison said that it appeared that Long was wary of another big hit after that crushing first-quarter blow led to him getting medical attention.

“I do feel that hit kind of did that,” Morrison said. “Every time he was running across the middle, he was looking. He was looking more.”

Cornerback Brandon Sebastian intercepted a deflected Howell pass to give BC the ball at the UNC 5. Three plays later, Jurkovec threw a 5-yard scoring pass to running back David Bailey to cut the Tar Heels’ lead 14-13 with 11:35 left in the first half.

Graduate transfer Grayson Atkins’ 35-yard field goal padded UNC’s lead with 2:32 left in the third quarter. He missed wide left on a 47-yard attempt with 5:46 remaining in the game that might have eliminated the last-minute drama.

“I knew it was gonna be a hard-fought game,” Brown said. “We had chances that we could have pulled away. Give them credit. We didn’t. They’ve got good players too; that’s why we play these games. It’s the team that plays the best that day. And today we were better than they were.”

Carolina returns home next Saturday for a noon game against Virginia Tech (2–0), which won 38–31 at Duke (0–4) on Saturday.

No. 12 North Carolina 26, Boston College 22

Pool photos by John Quackenbos/Boston College Athletics

Many UNC women’s soccer players kneel during national anthem before decisive season-opening victory

By R.L. Bynum

North Carolina’s women’s soccer season started just like most of Coach Anson Dorrance’s previous 43 seasons — with a decisive victory.

The Tar Heels’ 4–1 victory at Dorrance Field over Wake Forest on a soggy evening in Chapel Hill, their 14th consecutive ACC victory, wasn’t as significant as what happened before the game. The majority of the team knelt during the national anthem and there also was a moment of silence in support of social justice efforts before the game.

“Black lives do matter,” Dorrance said. “And I think sport can be an incredibly positive environment for social change because these wonderful Black athletes do have a statement of what’s happening within all the different cultures across the face of the earth.”

The actions were from the heart considering Dorrance has Black players on the team, including junior co-captain Rachel Jones, who scored twice and notched an assist.

“I think during the whole preseason on, my team has really rallied around me,” said Jones, who swiped the ball away from the Wake Forest goalie and scored feet away from the goal line for her first goal and added a penalty-kick goal in the second half. “They realize that there is a lot of stuff going on in regards to racial justice and they understand that I’m more than just an athlete.” 

There have been challenges for the most storied program in women’s college soccer in 2020. But the racial injustice and the politics of 2020 also captured a lot of the team’s focus.

“Obviously for all of us that care about humanity, the George Floyd incident was just horrific. And I have a lot of great Black athletes on my team,” said Dorrance, who noted that Jones’ ultimate ambition is to be on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dorrance assigned various books depending on the players’ year in school, but everybody on the team read How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

“This is a very socially conscious team,” Dorrance said. “Certainly, I am very conscious of the fact that I live under the incredibly protective umbrella of white privilege. And in reading that book with my team, and my Black athletes, I thought it was very meaningful.

“And we have committed to be social justice warriors in a positive sense, but we’re also not going to take away anyone else’s difference of opinion,” Dorrance said, noting that some of his players were standing during the anthem. “They were standing, hopefully for all the right reasons. Christianity. The flag. There are certainly a lot of very good reasons to stand. That’s what I like about the athletic movement.”

This is an odd season for a program that routinely advances to the Women’s College Cup but knows that there will be no NCAA title given, at least in 2020. The Tar Heels are trying not to worry about that, even as the sting of losing a 0-0 national-championship game last season on penalty kicks to Stanford ended a fine 24-2-1 season.

Rachel Jones, battling Wake Forest’s Liv Stowell during the Tar Heels’ opening-game win Thursday, said they are going to make the most of every game.

“We are just trying to get in as many games for our seniors before they go, so we’re just focusing on each game as it comes,” Jones said. “We’re sad that there won’t be a College Cup but we’re hopeful there will be one in the spring.”

Like all fall sports, there were doubts about whether there would be a season at times and plenty of challenges because of COVID-19.

“Especially during the beginning of the preseason, it was difficult because we didn’t know if we were going to have any games at all,” Jones said. “I think that COVID has brought us closer as a team and made us realize that we needed to take advantage of every opportunity that we got, whether it’s practice or if we’re gonna get games. Like we saw in the spring, they just woke up one day and they didn’t have any more games. We just knew that no matter what the season brings we don’t want to have any regrets. So, every day we have to attack.”

Dorrance appreciated the extended preseason practice and said that it was particularly helpful for the freshmen. At one point, a COVID-19 issue in Avery Dorm, which housed all of the team’s freshmen, led the program to have to split up the training for two weeks between the freshmen and the upperclassmen.

He admitted that, at one point, he didn’t think there would be a season. He felt terrible for the women’s lacrosse team, which was No. 1 in the country when its season stopped in the spring.

“Despite the death and the destruction of our economy and the fact that we might have an authoritarian government if Trump doesn’t believe that the vote count is proper, I still appreciate the fact we have a season,” Dorrance said.

Brianna Pinto

Brianna Pinto, who played at Jordan High School in Durham, made good on her promise of a goal in the opener to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead at 21:41. After leading 2-1 at halftime, UNC pulled away with Jones’ penalty-kick goal at 57:16 and Hallie Klanke’s score at 68:48.

UNC (1-0) moved to 33-2-2 all-time against Wake Forest (0-2), which lost 4-3 in a non-conference overtime game against Duke in its opener.

The Tar Heels (1-0) are back at home Sunday at 11 a.m. against Virginia Tech (0-2).

North Carolina 4, Wake Forest 1
21:42 UNC Brianna Pinto (1), assisted by Rachel Jones
23:05 UNC Rachel Jones (1)
34:03 WFU Sophie Faircloth (1)
57:15 UNC Rachel Jones (1)
68:48 UNC Hallie Klanke (1), assisted by Aleigh Gambone

Photos by Jeff Camarati/UNC Athletics

Williams kick-starts Heels as they blow past Syracuse in final quarter

By R.L. Bynum

For three quarters, the shaky play of North Carolina’s offensive line couldn’t block out doubts about the high expectations for this Tar Heels team.

The line couldn’t contain blitzes, and quarterback Sam Howell many times had trouble recognizing them. But the Tar Heels finally wore down that Syracuse defense with the relentless power running of Javonte Williams and the elusiveness of fellow running back Michael Carter.

After only scoring 10 points in the first three quarters, No. 18 UNC used three fourth-quarter touchdown runs by Williams to turn a tight game into a blowout and a 31-6 season-opening victory in front of a mostly empty Kenan Stadium.

“We felt like it’s probably a great opener for us because there’s a lot of things we’ve got to fix,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “And, at the same time, they can see that we have a chance to be really good. Now there were so many positives that we can build off of.”

It took only 5:23 of the fourth quarter for Williams to give UNC a comfortable lead with a 1-yard play to start the quarter and 6-yard runs with 11:33 left and 9:37 left. Carter broke loose for a 45-yard run on one of those scoring drives and finished with 78 rushing yards.

The Tar Heels (1-0) were a fourth-quarter team a year ago when they outscored opponents 120-51 in that quarter. It was 21-0 Saturday. 

Howell blamed mistakes for the slow start.

“We kind of weren’t playing like ourselves in the first half. They were doing some different things on the defensive side of the ball. So, we just had to adjust a little bit at halftime,” Howell said. “We were killing drives with one play, one mistake. We’ve got to stay consistent and play clean football every drive. Because we’d have one bad play kill the drive, that’s what was happening a lot in the first half. So, we need to make sure we stay consistent and just play consistent football.”

Howell finished 25 of 34 for 295 yards, one touchdown pass and two interceptions. It was the first game of his college career without multiple touchdown passes, ending the longest active streak in the FBS.

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (7) warms up before UNC’s season-opening victory over Syracuse.

Depth is an issue on an offensive line that played without left guard Joshua Ezeudu, who Brown said may play next week against Charlotte.

Howell said Syracuse forced UNC to change their game plan.

“With their secondary, they’re playing really deep,” Howell said. “They’re kind of bailing on everything, so we knew our deep game wasn’t really going to be there. So, we had to take the underneath stuff because that’s what they were giving.”

Howell had success throwing to his running backs with Williams catching one pass for 22 yards and Carter pulling down six passes for 60 yards.

“I honestly like catching the ball more than running because it’s just like a lot of space on the edge,” Williams said. “And usually when you catch a ball, you just really have to make one person miss.”

The strong fourth quarter wasn’t new for UNC. Scoring three rushing touchdowns after scoring only 13 last season wasn’t as expected.

“I think we just had to get back in our rhythm,” said Williams, who had 57 rushing yards on 14 carries. “We hadn’t really got tackled since December, so we had a lot of time off. We just had to get back in our rhythm. In the second half, we just came together and made plays.”

Williams is the first player to rush for three touchdowns in an opener since Ronnie McGill did it against William & Mary in 2004.

Howell had his bad moments, including when he threw into double coverage on a pass early in the third quarter that Andre Cisco intercepted. That produced a 24-yard field goal from Andrew Szmyt. Howell had two passes intercepted after only throwing seven interceptions during his freshman season.

“I was trying to look the safety off and I thought I did a good job with that,” said Howell, who had the most passing yards by a UNC quarterback in an opener since T.J. Yates threw for 412 yards against LSU in 2010. “I went to the right side of the field, so thought I would be able to get it to Dyami [Brown]. I shouldn’t have thrown the ball, even though I tried to look them off. But they made a good play and I’m gonna learn from them.”

Brown did have a game-high 94 receiving yards on six catches.

Grayson Atkins

Furman transfer kicker Grayson Atkins, a graduate student, pushed UNC’s lead to 10-6 on a 31-yard field goal with 3:18 left in the third quarter before Williams ignited the fourth-quarter surge.

UNC’s defense, led by linebacker Chaz Surratt’s nine tackles, recorded seven sacks and brought a better pass rush than a year ago. There were several play-makers in addition to Surratt, with defensive back Myles Wolfolk and linebackers Kaimon Rucker and Jeremiah Gemmel all collecting five tackles.

“I really thought that the defense played well throughout the game. Wish we would force for some turnovers, we’ve got to do a better job in that area,” Mack Brown said. The lone turnover was a Giovanni Biggers interception. “I think the biggest difference in our defense is that we’re two deep. And we have fresh legs.” 

The six points Syracuse scored were the fewest allowed against an ACC opponent since Duke scored six on Nov. 7, 2009. The Orange’s 202 total yards were the fewest by an ACC opponent since Boston College’s 198 in 2009.

It took UNC 10 plays and just over four minutes to turn the game’s opening drive into an 11-yard touchdown pass from Howell to tight end Garrett Walston.

A tipped Howell slant pass was intercepted on Carolina’s next drive, giving Syracuse the ball at the UNC 31. Carolina’s defense didn’t allow a first down on the drive, though, stopping the Orange on a fourth-and-short.

Dazz Newsome tested UNC’s defense again when he muffed a punt, which Syracuse recovered at the UNC 21 early in the second quarter. Carolina quickly forced a field-goal attempt, which Szmyt made from 37 yards out not long after Atkins hit the left upright with a 50-yard attempt.

Now it’s on to another home game next Saturday in a mostly empty stadium against Charlotte, which lost its opener at Appalachian State.

Game summary

Pool photos by Robert Willett