Sophomore Cedric Benson ran for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Chris Simms passed for 298 yards and four touchdowns as the Longhorns held off a pesky UNC team before pulling away late, 52-21, before a sellout crowd of 60,500 at Kenan Stadium.
"He's powerful," UNC defensive end Will Chapman said about Benson. "He hits the hole hard and keeps running. He keeps his legs churning and he's tough to bring down."
Fifty-seven months after accepting Texas' offer to become its new football coach, Brown returned to a place he once thought he'd never leave.
UNC fans had been waiting for the opportunity to let their ex-coach know how so many of them still feel. UNC supporters dreamed of an upset, as Brown's teams have stumbled in similar settings before. But despite their boos upon his entrance into the stadium, Brown and his team put an exclamation mark on this "Controversy."
"I am really proud that North Carolina football is in John Bunting's hands and moving forward," said Brown, whose record a UNC was 69-46-1 from 1988-97. "We had better players, our guys hung in there, and we had more depth.
"I am proud to be part of the two biggest crowds in school history," continued Brown, whose team's output was more than any UNC opponent ever in Chapel Hill. "I was just on the wrong side of one of them."
Last year in Austin, the Tar Heels fell to Texas 44-14 mainly due to turnovers and poor special teams play.
Although Texas (2-0) dominated the first 29 minutes, Carolina managed to stick around and give its fans hope.
After scoring on Darian Durant's 27-yard scamper right before intermission, the Heels took the opening kickoff of the second half and moved to the Longhorns' 26 before a false start penalty and Durant interception into the end zone stalled the drive.
UNC (1-2) held Texas and quickly got the ball back on its 34. Derrele Mitchell hauled in a 48-yard pass, and a 25-yard dash by Durant gave the Heels first-and-goal at the Texas six. Jacque Lewis bowled over right guard to the goal line but fumbled into the end zone. Texas' Rod Babers couldn't handle the ball and UNC center Jason Brown fell on it for the touchdown, cutting the margin to 24-14 with 4:08 left in the quarter.
"We fought hard all night and went at them with everything we had," said Lewis, who carried the ball 20 times for 84 yards. "We knew that we could move the ball and we weren't discouraged when we got down 24-0."
A face-masking penalty on the ensuing kickoff allowed the 'Horns to start at UNC's 45. Two plays later Simms found tight end Chad Stevens for a 10-yard TD pass, and the Longhorns were up 31-14 with 3:16 left in the third quarter.
But Carolina remained gritty, as the Heels responded when Durant found Sam Aiken near the corner of the end zone on a gorgeous fade, cutting the margin to 31-21 with 14:55 left.
But, like championship caliber teams often do, Texas responded with a game-clinching score. After four Benson runs moved the 'Horns to the 42, Simms found All-American Roy Williams with a relatively short soft pass near the sideline, and Williams shook off Waddell and waltzed most of his 58 yards into the end zone to essentially put the game out of reach, 38-21 with 12:15 left to play.
"We had several missed tackles and we're a young defense, we are going to take chances and try to make plays against the No. 2 team in the country," Bunting said, clearly bothered by the number of times UNC defenders did not wrap up Longhorns. "Sometimes we did things well and some other times we were obviously not at the right place. The missed tackles are what really hurt us, especially in the second half."
The Longhorns tacked on a pair of late scores for the final, somewhat deceiving margin.
"We were never really out of this game," said Durant, who completed 12 of 23 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. "They had a 10-point lead with 10 minutes to go in the game, you can't ask for a better situation than that."
After the Longhorns scored on their first possession to take a 3-0 lead, they stopped the Heels on three downs and quickly darted up the field on four plays, scoring on a 35-yard pass from Simms to Ivan Williams - his only reception - to take a 10-0 lead with 6:49 left in the quarter.
UNC followed with a 48-yard drive - all but three yards on the ground - taking five minutes off clock, giving the defense a needed rest. But Durant was sacked for 8-yard loss on third and 10, forcing the Heels to turn to place kicker Dan Orner. However, Orner, who made three kicks of 50 or more yards a week ago, missed the 49-yard attempt as the ball clanked off the right uprights.
Texas then marched 68 yards on eight plays, mostly on runs by Benson, who carried the call seven times for 47 yards on the drive, including his 4-yard TD run to put the Longhorns up 17-0 with 13:42 left in half.
Two possessions later Texas scored again, this time on the brilliance of wide receiver Williams, who hauled in a 35-yard pass from Simms to set up his 6-yard scoring reception. And it appeared the rout was on, as Brown's club led 24-0 with 6:02 left in the half.
"I was in great position," said Michael Waddell, who was assigned to Williams all night. "We both were competing for the ball, but he came down with it. He made the big play when he was supposed to."
The Tar Heels hurt themselves on several positive possessions. Carolina moved to Texas' 32, but Durant was intercepted in the end zone by Dakarai Pearson.
"For sure (we missed opportunities)," Durant said. "Turnovers hurt, but they especially hurt when you are down in the red zone. I just have to stop trying so hard and let the game come to me."
The Tar Heels, however, got on the scoreboard just before halftime, going 74 yards on just four plays.
While the final score may be a bit misleading, the total numbers aren't.
Texas had 569 total yards - 271 of which came on the ground.
For Bunting, there are positives. But this team clearly has plenty to work on.
"We hung with those guys," Bunting said. "That game could have been a tied ballgame at halftime. In the third quarter, we were moving the ball well. We just could not, after scoring, stop them."
And for Brown, it was probably a sweet victory. But he won't say so. And at this point, that is probably best.
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.