With UNC holding a 21-19 lead with roughly four minutes to play in the third quarter, Williams kept the ball on 3rd-and-8 and was drilled by Brandon Pittman after a two-yard game.
The sophomore quarterback stayed down on the field for several minutes as UNC’s athletic trainers surveyed the damage. The medical diagnosis was a stinger.
On UNC’s next drive, Renner scampered for a five-yard gain, sliding down before getting hit by Monty Nelson on the ground. The fifth-year senior immediately grabbed his left shoulder and motioned for the athletic trainers, who promptly slid his arm back into place.
“It doesn’t feel too good at first when it’s kind of hanging out,” Renner told reporters following the game. “I can’t explain it. Once it gets back in, it feels a lot better. But right now, I’ve dealt with it before, so I think I should be fine.”
Fedora indicated that red-shirt freshman Kanler Coker would have been the next quarterback off the bench had Williams not been available for a prompt return.
“Each one of them they were out for a bit and they said they could come back,” Fedora said. “[Renner] came back in and played and obviously [Williams] came back in and played but we had the next one ready. We’re always ready for that. If we’ve got to go four or five we’ll put somebody out there.”
Renner completed 15-of-22 passes for 124 yards while also scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run. Williams connected on 8-of-15 passes for 92 yards and a 2-yard scoring strike to Quinshad Davis, while also pacing UNC with 51 rushing yards on 17 carries.
Despite the injuries, UNC understood from film study that N.C. State’s defensive front would be a physical load to handle.
“We knew coming in that the game was going to dictate that,” Renner said. “They were going to play really hard and they took some good shots at both of us.”
The Tar Heels would have found it difficult to get off to a worse start, running five plays for minus-14 yards with an interception on their opening two possessions.
Less than eight minutes into this 103rd rivalry meeting, UNC trailed 10-0.
Renner was responsible for the opening two drives, but it was Williams that entered on the third possession and settled the offense down in directing a 74-yard touchdown drive. Fedora told reporters following the game that Williams was scripted to take the third series, regardless of score.
UNC used a balance approach – four passes and five rushes, including three by Williams – to churn out three first downs and march down the field in 4:02. Fedora’s offense thrives when it controls the tempo, which was evident on that scoring drive.
“We ran a little bit more quarterback runs there, obviously, when he’s in the game and he did a nice job with that,” Fedora said. “He threw the ball. Once we start moving the chains a little bit, then you can get your tempo going.”
Williams dismissed the notion that he was solely responsible for the momentum change.
“It’s not me, it’s us as a whole,” Williams said. “As an offense, we’re just striving to keep pushing the tempo.”
With Williams creating positive momentum on the field, Renner was able to catch his breath on the sideline.
“As a competitor, you have to stay focused and locked in,” Renner said. “You know your number is going to be called. We do a great job during the week of having scenarios come up where you’re throwing in practice and then you come off the field. So I’m used to it now and I think we do a great job feeding off each other.”
Both quarterbacks remained poised throughout the constant Wolfpack pressure, making critical plays at crucial times. In addition to Williams’s play on the third series of the game, Renner stepped up on a 3rd-and-7 at UNC's own 28 in the second quarter, taking a low snap and firing a laser to T.J. Thorpe for a 15-yard pass play.
On the next play, A-back Ryan Switzer connected with Davis on a 59-yard trick play for a touchdown to give UNC a lead it would never relinquish at 21-16.
UNC finished with 427 yards of total offense, good for a 5.6-yards-per-play average.