The Tar Heels (7-3, 3-3 ACC) closed out their home schedule by notching their third-straight win over the Hurricanes (7-3, 4-3 ACC). Miami is now winless in four attempts in Chapel Hill.
After a scoreless first quarter, UNC quarterback T.J. Yates (17-of-31 passing, 213 yards, TD) connected with wide receiver Greg Little on a 29-yard slant route for a touchdown. Miami quickly answered with a one-yard Damien Berry touchdown run to even the score, but 7-7 would be the closest the Hurricanes would get the rest of the night.
North Carolina built a 20-7 halftime lead on two Casey Barth field goals and a Kendric Burney 77-yard interception return for touchdown.
Jacory Harris (28-of-50 passing, 319 yards, TD, 4 INT) rallied Miami from a 23-7 deficit in the third quarter, directing the Hurricanes on two consecutive scoring drives – the second resulting in a three-yard Graig Cooper touchdown run – to pull within 23-17.
But another Burney interception that ended with a Melvin Williams touchdown [see below] moved UNC back out in front 30-17 with 9:28 remaining in regulation. Harris cut back into the deficit with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham, but the Tar Heels were able to milk the clock and Barth connected on a 33-yard field goal to put the game away with 1:57 left to play.
North Carolina totaled 329 yards of yards compared with Miami’s 435, but the Tar Heels won the turnover battle, 4-0. Ryan Houston gained 76 yards on 24 carries in his first starting role at tailback.
INSIDE THE GAME
A Touchdown Unlike Anything You’ve Ever Seen
If you didn’t see Kendric Burney’s third-quarter interception that started on UNC’s 10-yard-line and ended with Melvin Williams scoring his first-career touchdown, the following description may be hard to believe. There are UFO sighting stories that are more plausible than what happened at Kenan Stadium on Nov. 14 against the Miami Hurricanes, but at least there were 60,000-plus that witnessed this event.
“I guess if you coach a lifetime, you see just about everything,” said UNC head coach Butch Davis, who is now 3-0 against his former team.
With UNC leading 23-17, Burney intercepted Harris’ pass attempt to Graham at the 10 and proceeded to follow his blockers up the right sideline. As he approached midfield, a cutback to the left side of the field would have provided open terrain for another interception return for a touchdown, but Burney opted to dart closer to the right sideline.
When Burney encountered resistance in the form of Hurricane defenders, his eyes locked on roommate Melvin Williams around the Miami 45-yard-line. What happened next led to laughter from the winning team in postgame interviews and dismay from the losing side.
Burney bobbled the football and then tossed it forward to Williams, who stood motionless for a split second before running to the end zone for a touchdown. A Miami defender knocked the ball out of the UNC free safety’s hands at the goal line, who eventually recovered it for the score.
But if Burney’s actions had been ruled a forward lateral, North Carolina would have incurred a five-yard penalty back to the 50-yard-line. But instant replay officials confirmed the call on the field – a fumble that was recovered and then advanced by Williams.
“No, I didn’t think there was any chance it was going to be reversed,” a smiling Davis told reporters.
To make it even more confusing, Williams was credited with a 44-yard interception return for touchdown, despite the fact than Burney was ruled as fumbling the ball.
“It was a fun play,” Burney said. “After I pitched it to him, I just laid there because I knew it was a forward pass, but I was just hoping they didn’t catch it.”
Burney’s three interceptions for 170 yards and a touchdown set numerous records on Saturday. The yardage stands as an ACC single-game record, as well as breaking UNC’s single-season record. The junior cornerback is now Carolina's all-time leader in interception return yardage, smashing Kareen Taylor’s previous mark of 206, and ranks second in ACC history with 317 career interception return yards (Duke’s John Talley leads with 395 yards).
The Benefit of Shared Experiences
Down 23-17, Miami stood at North Carolina’s 48-yard-line with 14:46 remaining in regulation, looking to take its first lead of the game. The Tar Heels had jumped out to a 23-7 lead in the third quarter, but the Hurricanes had grabbed the momentum.
Presumably everyone in Kenan Stadium was thinking back to the Florida State collapse on Oct. 22, when North Carolina led the Seminoles 24-6 before losing 30-27. But the Tar Heels refused to let that outcome repeat itself as both the offense and defense made big plays down the stretch to pull out a nine-point victory.
“There are shared experiences that you have to have together,” Davis said. “… Sometimes some of the outcomes are not as good as you would like. We are sick to death that we lost to Florida State. But if that doesn’t happen, maybe we don’t beat Miami tonight. Who knows?"
Different Barth, Same Result
Connor Barth will forever be remembered by North Carolina fans for his game-winning field goal over No. 4 Miami back in 2004. And while younger brother Casey’s role in Saturday’s victory over the 12th-ranked Hurricanes was nowhere near as dramatic, his performance was just as important.
Casey connected on all four of his field goal attempts on Saturday, including a 42-yarder that tied his career-long (Notre Dame, ‘08). His final field goal from 33 yards with 1:57 left in regulation not only iced North Carolina’s third straight victory, but it marked his 13th-straight connection and eight in the last two games.
Barth has drilled 17 of his 20 attempts on the season and hasn’t missed since the Georgia Tech loss on Sept. 26.
Senior Day Salute
North Carolina honored 10 seniors on Saturday – center Lowell Dyer, left tackle Kyle Jolly, walk-on linebacker Alex Crisp, walk-on cornerback Tyler Caldwell, fullback Bobby Rome, defensive tackle Cam Thomas, middle linebacker Kennedy Tinsley, safety
Melvin Williams, defensive end E.J. Wilson and defensive tackle Al Mullins.
“This is big-time special,” Williams replied when asked about getting a win on Senior Day. “The last go-around at this stadium… I wanted to cry out there. I got me a touchdown. I love this team and I love these coaches. I don’t want to go.”
Mullins is eligible for a fifth-year of eligibility in 2010, but he has decided to graduate and forgo that opportunity.