In the final minute of the first quarter, as North Carolina was desperately trying to gain traction and build momentum, quarterback Bryn Renner found Romar Morris on 3rd-and-26 from his own 21-yard line. The backup tailback scooted up the middle of the field before falling short of the first down marker, but not before safety Calvin Pryor knocked the ball loose.
Louisville recovered the fumble at UNC’s 45, setting up another Cardinal touchdown to increase the margin on the scoreboard to 22-0.
Such a play can be a devastating blow for a young player. The next time Morris touched the ball, however, was on a wheel route in which UNC’s wide receivers all ran to the left side of the field, allowing him to run past a defender for an easy 44-yard touchdown reception.
With the Tar Heels trailing 39-14 with 13:38 remaining, Morris ignited a scoring drive with a 24-yard screen pass play on first down and then set up the touchdown with a 12-yard scamper to Louisville’s nine-yard line.
That score inched the Tar Heels back to within 39-21 with 12:02 to play. UNC had life, but still needed a dynamic play to make a victory a legitimate possibility.
Morris delivered, slicing through the Cardinals’ punt protection unit to get a hand on Ryan Johnson’s first punt of the game and giving his offense a 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard line. The Salisbury, N.C. product attributed his first career punt block to execution.
“Coach Fedora had been putting it in the whole week and put me in it this week so that I could block the punt,” Morris told reporters following the game. “I just did my job and everybody else did their job and we got to the punt.”
Roughly four minutes later, Morris caught a check down pass from Renner over the middle and used his quickness and speed to cut around some defenders while running past others for a 50-yard touchdown jaunt.
Morris’s second score of the afternoon cut Louisville’s once insurmountable lead to just 39-34 with 4:23 to play.
When asked how much Morris grew up on Saturday, Renner replied: “A ton.”
“That early fumble – he was really bothered by that,” the junior quarterback said. “He grew up a lot. Big-time players make plays to make up for that one play. He had one mistake and he made up for it big-time, taking a little check down to the house. That was a phenomenal play. He did a lot of good things and helped us almost win the ball game.”
North Carolina needed an offensive skill player to elevate his game with Gio Bernard sidelined for the second week in a row and Morris accepted that responsibility.
“He was all over the place,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “And that’s the kind of player he is. He can do a lot of things for this football team, and he will. As this year goes along and he keeps maturing, he’s going to help this football team a bunch.”
Morris caught five passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, rushed four times for 23 yards and returned a kickoff for 26 yards and a punt for four yards. He finished with 202 all-purpose yards.
The freshman is quiet and unassuming by nature, and his humility remained intact even after his breakout performance.
“It was good, being one of my first couple of games, just going out there and playing as hard as I can,” Morris said. “I’m thankful that I’m getting the opportunity to be able to be on the field with those guys every day and I’m thankful for Coach Fedora believing in me.”
After watching game film on Sunday morning, there’s a good chance Fedora will be thankful for Morris’s performance on Saturday in leading an incredible rally.
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