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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lightning strikes twice as Tar Heels foil San Diego State

Posted by on Sun, Sep 7, 2014 at 1:21 AM

click to enlarge Marquise Williams looks for an opening as the Aztecs' Josh Gavert pursues. - CHRIS BAIRD
  • Chris Baird
  • Marquise Williams looks for an opening as the Aztecs' Josh Gavert pursues.

KENAN STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL UNC plays its first game against an FBS team this season as the Tar Heels entertain San Diego State on national TV.

It's "Stripe Out" night in the Southern Part of Heaven, as the No. 21 Tar Heels are wearing black jerseys over Carolina Blue breeches and black socks. The "Tar Pit" student section is dressed in black shirts, while the rest of the stadium has sections alternating in black and light blue.

The Aztecs are a pretty good team from the Mountain West Conference, but they don't get out this way much. This is their 13th football game in the Eastern Time Zone. Ever.

And they'll be leaving with a very, very hefty paycheck, as the Tar Heels won't be heading to Qualcomm Stadium any time soon.

UNC trails most of the night, but a second-half comeback and three huge interceptions make for a 31-27 win.

click to enlarge Ryan Switzer looks to break away from SDSU's Na'im McGee. - CHRIS BAIRD
  • Chris Baird
  • Ryan Switzer looks to break away from SDSU's Na'im McGee.
After a sleepy first quarter in which no play goes for more than 11 yards, the teams trade lightning early in the second.
After SDSU had driven 86 yards to the UNC 2, the Tar Heels' Brian Walker - who had been suspended for the opener in an alleged hazing incident involving a teammate - steps in front of a Quinn Kaehler pass a yard deep in the end zone and scoots down the right sideline untouched. It was UNC's first 100-yard interception return in 20 years. Thomas Moore adds the conversion at 10:52.

Kaehler takes little time to atone, hitting Eric Judge in stride down the left sideline for a 56-yard scoring connection to complete a three-play, 75-yard drive at 9:38. Donny Hageman's try ties the score.

The Aztecs get a break three plays into the Tar Heels' next possession, as Jon Sanchez intercepts a Mitch Trubisky pass and returns it six yards to the UNC 29. Five plays later Donnel Pumphrey takes it in from 12 yards out, and Hageman's try makes it 14-7 at 7:08.

The Tar Heels get a nice drive going following the second half kickoff, but Moore misses a 41-yard field goal.

The Aztecs take it to 21-7 soom after that, going 76 yards in seven plays with Pumphrey taking it in from three yards out. Hageman's boot adds the punctuation at 9:13.

UNC gets off the canvas, going 65 yards in 14 plays on its next possession with Marquise Williams hitting Quinshad Davis from 11 yards out at 4:40. Nick Weiler adds the boot and it's 21-14.

But the Aztecs make things tougher with 14:03 left, as Hageman's 49-yard field goal completes a 10-play, 43-yard excursion.

That doesn't last long, as Williams finds Mack Hollins in stride for a 91-yard scoring pass on the very next play. It's the longest scoring connection in Chapel Hill by the Tar Heels, ever. And Weiler's conversion makes it 24-21.

SDSU answers with 10:30 left, as Hageman connects from 40 yards out to end a seven-play, 52-yard drive.

And the Tar Heels take their first lead since the opening minutes at 8:01, as Elijah Hood bulls in from two yards out to end an eight-play, 80-yard drive with Weiler kicking for the 28-27 lead.

Walker picks off another Kaehler pass and returns it 26 yards to the Aztecs' 14, and Weiler's 23-yard field goal makes it 31-27 with 4:00 to go.

But that doesn't mean UNC doesn't have to dodge a bullet. The visitors drive all the way to the 3-yard line in the closing moments, but Tim Scott's interception with 14 seconds left seals the deal.

The contest marks the first time in school history that the Tar Heels had two plays of 90 yards or longer in the same game.

Williams finishes with 319 yards total offense, including 20-for-29 for 255 yards without an interception. Ryan Switzer has six catches for 62 yards, Davis five for 48 and the TD.

They said it …
UNC coach Larry Fedora: "What a game! First of all I want to congratulate the crowd, our student section and the Tar Pit. They did a tremendous job, and our guys fed off it the entire game. ... I thought (Williams) did a nice job. He made plays when he needed to make plays. I was proud of the way Marquise played the entire game. ... (Walker) made plays for us. It was really an amazing night for him."

SDSU coach Rocky Long: "You can't win a game like that if you don't play better in the fourth quarter than we did, and you can't win games like that when you throw interceptions. ... We had some scores left on the table and we probably should have been much further ahead at halftime than we were."

Williams: "I give credit to the offensive guys. They did a phenomenal job tonight. No praise to me. I love those guys, and they battled with me tonight. I'm just so happy we got this win."

Scott: "I'm emotional. We played pretty bad this game as a team. We weren't really energized, but when we came to play it showed. We needed just that one play to spark us, and it happened to be the last play."

click to enlarge Marquise Williams breaks another Aztec tackle. - CHRIS BAIRD
  • Chris Baird
  • Marquise Williams breaks another Aztec tackle.
What does it all mean?
That UNC is 2-0 for the first time since 2011.

Stars of the game
1. Walker.
2. Williams.
3. Davis.

Play of the game
Williams' 91-yard TD pass to Hollins.

Streaks
UNC: Won 3.
SDSU: Lost 1.

All-time series

UNC leads 2-0.

Up next
UNC at East Carolina, Sept. 20, TBA
SDSU at Oregon State, Sept. 20, TBA

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