- Photo by Chris Baird
- UNC wide receiver Mark McNeill gives a stiff arm to the Blue Raiders’ Kenneth Gilstrap.
KENAN STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL UNC plays its home opener on one of those sun-splashed, perfect days for, well, anything.
The visitor is Middle Tennessee State of Conference USA, which is 1-0 after its 45-24 season-opening romp over Western Carolina.
UNC, which is aiming for a bowl bid and wants to make a run at the ACC Championship Game after last year’s 8-4 season under NCAA probation, is looking to bounce back from its 27-10 season-opening loss at then-No. 6 South Carolina nine nights ago.
It’s the first meeting between the two teams, but the Blue Raiders are playing an ACC opponent for the ninth straight year. MTSU’s guarantee for this one is a reported $850,000.
The teams combine for over 900 yards total offense but the UNC is better at taking care of the ball, coming away with a 40-20 victory to even the record.
- Photo by Chris Baird
- The Tar Heels’ A.J. Blue tries to blow past MTSU’s Jared Singletary.
The Tar Heels get a big break early. After the Blue Raiders win the toss and defer, UNC chooses to play heading East and ends up having to kick. MTSU drives the ball to within 18 inches of the goal, on a 20-yard pass from Logan Kilgore to Kyle Griswould that is called a touchdown but overturned upon further review. Three plays later Tre Boston intercepts Kilgore in the end zone.
And the Tar Heels respond quickly, as Romar Morris goes around left end for a 21-yard score with 6:55 left in the quarter to complete a five-play, 80-yard drive. A conversion pass comes up short and it’s 6-0.
UNC makes it 13-0 with 15 seconds left in the quarter, as Bryn Renner sneaks in from a yard out on fourth down to finish a 10-play, 73-yard march with Thomas Moore adding the boot. The big play of the drive is Renner’s 59-yard pass to Mark McNeill to the Raiders’ 16.
It goes to 20-0 with 4:31 left in the half, as Morris scores again from a yard out to complete a seven-play, 82-yard drive and Moore adds the boot.
Moore stretches the advantage to 23-0 at the halftime buzzer with a 39-yard field goal, completing a 12-play, 46-yard drive.
MTSU fights back after the second-half kickoff, going 68 yards in nine plays with Jordan Parker bursting up the middle for the 22-yard score. Cody Clark kicks and it’s 23-7 at 10:36.
Moore makes it 26-7 on a 35-yard field goal with 3:06 left in the quarter to complete a 15-play, 58-yard drive.
The Raiders get closer with 12:54 to go, as Jared Singletary picks up a fumble from the Tar Heels’ Ryan Switzer at the UNC 25 and takes it to the house. The two-point conversion attempt fails and it’s 26-13.
The Tar Heels deliver a big blow with 11:16 to go when Renner hits Quinshad Davis for an 18-yard score and Moore adds the kick.
The Raiders get to the UNC nine with just under seven minutes left before turning the ball over on downs.
UNC makes it 40-13 at 2:24 after Marquise Williams hits Bug Howard for a 15-yard TD.
But the visitors get a score on Austin Grammer’s 12-yard pass to Chris Perkins with 25 seconds to play.
Renner completes 23 of 34 passes for 339 yards and a TD with one interception. Morris carries 10 times for 46 yards with the two scores. Sean Tapley catches four passes for 93 for UNC.
Parker carries 22 times for 109 yards and the TD to lead the Raiders. Kilgore completes 21 of 35 for 211 with three interceptions, while Tavarres Jefferson catches seven passes for 101 yards.
They said it …
UNC coach Larry Fedora: “It was good to get a win, especially here in the Tar Pit in front of our fans. Our players deserved to have some fun today. We work extremely hard. We talk about it — we’re going to outwork people and you get the opportunity to have fun on Saturdays. … I think our guys did a nice job of hitting, and a nice job of wrapping up. We did a much better job of tackling today. They created some takeaways, and some of those were in the air, and that was a great thing.”
MTSU coach Rick Stockstill: “As I told our team I was extremely proud of how hard they competed and how hard they played. I think we were our own worst enemy today. We had some self-inflicted wounds we weren’t able to overcome, and we dropped two touchdown passes. We don’t end up getting points on those two drives.”
Renner: “We had the same stuff in for the game this week, but I think we executed a lot better. Converting on third down, I think we did a great job. Obviously in the score zone we did a fairly good job, so I think we executed a little more today.”
UNC DE Kareem Martin: “Going into this game, ont of the big things was tempo. We knew they were an up-tempo team and could potentially hurt us, so we were just working with the coaches to get everyone lined up. They put us in tough situations at practice and that really helped.”
- Photo by Chris Baird
- UNC tailback Romar Morris changes direction.
What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels are pretty good at grinding out a team victory over an outmanned opponent. And that the Raiders have a lot of fight in them.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Boston’s interception to end the Blue Raiders’ first drive.
UNC: Won 1.
MTSU: Lost 1.
UNC leads 1-0.
MTSU vs. Memphis, Sept. 14, 7 p.m.
UNC at Georgia Tech, Sept. 21, TBA