UNC’s defense did little to stop the Purple Paladins, which rolled up 521 yards of total offense. However with the game on the line, and ahead 38-35 with 7:27 remaining, the Tar Heels’ managed their only three-and-out stoppage of the game.
After an exchange of touchdowns, time ran out on Furman, which had an onside kick recovery overturned in the closing seconds.
In its two previous losses to Rutgers and Virginia Tech, UNC had out-gained its each of its opponents. But in a game that produced 87 points and 967 yards of total offense, the Tar Heels (1-2) came out of the short end of the stick statistically, but they claimed their first win of the year, while saddling Furman (2-1) with its first setback.
As the Tar Heels prepare for their first road-trip of the season to Clemson, there’s solace knowing they’ve found a quarterback in redshirt freshman Cam Sexton, and they’ve finally unleashed their rushing attack consisting of senior Ronnie McGill and junior transfer Barrington Edwards.
“I felt pretty good out there today,” McGill said. “Just getting out there and finishing the game was a big relief.”
Sexton was sharp in his first start of his career, completing 14 of 20 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Although he threw one interception that resulted in a Furman go-ahead touchdown, Sexton rebounded with a 50-yard fourth-quarter scoring pass to Jesse Holley (3 recs., 85 yds., TD) to put the Tar Heels up for good.
John Bunting said, “That was a play which we perhaps anticipated them being in another coverage and Jesse just went up and made a big play on his own. Cam put it in the spot where Jesse can make that play.
“Cam played with an awful lot of poise. There was no doubt on the offensive side that we would continue to score points.”
McGill, who rotated 2-for-1 on series with Edwards, enjoyed his most successful game of the year, with 114 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns on the ground, and 60 yards receiving and a touchdown. Edwards also had his best outing of the season (11-57, TD).
“Ronnie will break tackles,” Bunting said. “He never stops working, He will outwork people. We all know what a great kid he is. We were able to get him the ball. We blocked better at the line of scrimmage.
“And it was nice to see Barrington play well, too.”
Meanwhile, the UNC run defense remains a concern. Carolina’s suspect defense certainly brought out the best of the Paladins on offense.
Coming into the game, Furman coach Bobby Lamb talked down his offense, which feasts on the complimentary junior backfield tandem of fullback Jerome Felton and tailback Cedrik Gipson.
Felton and Gipson led the Paladins to 211 yards rushing, while quarterback Renaldo Gray threw for 310 yards and a touchdown.
After winning the toss, UNC opted for possession and Brandon Tate’s 34-yard kickoff return set up a lightning quick scoring drive for the previously floundering Tar Heels’ offense. Following two meager right-side rushes by McGill, on 3rd-and-7, Sexton waited for a screen to the left to set up and hit McGill for a 58-yard touchdown pass.
On the ensuing kickoff, Furman return man Masharn Austin misplayed a line drive kickoff by Connor Barth, and reserve defensive back Jordan Hemby scooped up the loose ball at the Paladins’ 7-yard line. McGill later scored on a 3-yard run.
By the time Furman’s offense took the field for the first time – just 2:58 into the game – the Tar Heels led 14-0.
For the first time in four games – since taking a 17-14 lead into intermission at Duke last year, UNC led at the half, 24-14.
“We were thinking we were going to run up the points, and our defense was going to stop them,” McGill said. “But it didn’t work out that way, and they just kept scoring.”
A five-play, 72-yard scoring drive following an interception, gave Furman its first lead of the game – 27-24 – with 3:23 to play in the third quarter.
“I wanted to make sure that after my interception that I played well,” Sexton said. “That was not a good throw on my part, but after a bad play, you’ve got to respond.”