CHAPEL HILL, NC — It was almost a dream game for University of North Carolina football supporters on Saturday afternoon, keeping up score-for-score with the top-25 team sporting last season’s electric Heisman Trophy winner and possibly erasing a disappointing season opener last week to post an early season-defining victory.
Then Lamar Jackson happened.
Last season’s Heisman winner took over the game, eventually accumulating for 525 total yards and six total touchdowns as the No. 17 Cardinals posted its second come-from-behind victory in as many weeks, defeating the Tar Heels 47-35 in a see-saw affair at Kenan Stadium. Three of Jackson’s six touchdowns came in a 10-minute span of the fourth quarter after the Cardinals trailed by one to start the final 15 minutes.
Jackson threw three touchdowns in the game, and now has thrown five touchdowns without an interception combined in the first two weeks of his Heisman defense in 2017. He also became just the second player in FBS history to pass for at least 300 yards and rush for at least 100 yards in the same game in consecutive games.
“Lamar had a great game,” said Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino. “I thought he threw the ball really well, made great decisions and accurate passes. It was amazing when he can take off and run and score touchdowns, too.”
All of Jackson’s three touchdowns on the ground came in the second half, including a 43-yard run up the middle to begin the scoring in the third to give the Cardinals a 27-14 lead, and a second-effort run from three yards out which gave the Cardinals the lead for good at 33-28 with 13:50 remaining.
On the day, Jackson led the Cardinals to 705 yards of total offense.
“That guy (Jackson), he’s special now, he really is,” said Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora. “He sat back there and threw the ball like he was in the NFL. He threw great passes.”
Despite the Cardinals being near unstoppable on offense, North Carolina more than held their own on the scoreboard and had a critical decision to make to begin the fourth quarter. After substitute quarterback Brandon Harris completed an 18-yard pass to the Louisville 29 on third-and-19, the Tar Heels decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 and eschew the field goal attempt which could have cut Louisville’s lead to two. Harris’ pass on the play was incomplete and the Cardinals then turned the ensuing drive into a five-play march into the end zone, capped off by a 30-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field from Jackson to Dez Fitzpatrick.
On the Heels’ next offensive drive, they moved the ball inside of the Cardinals’ five-yard line, where they faced a fourth-and-goal. Harris completed a pass on the left flat to tight end Brandon Fritts, who fumbled the ball out of bounds at the one while trying to stretch for the goal line. Louisville took over inside of the one-yard line, but drove 99 yards on six plays to seal the deal. Malik Williams’ 74-yard run was the key play, and, three plays later, Jackson capped off his spectacular afternoon with an 11-yard touchdown run to give Louisville a 47-28 lead.
North Carolina went with Harris, a transfer from LSU, to start the second half after freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt hurt his back late in the second quarter on a run and spent almost the entirety of the second half on the exercise bike on the UNC sidelines. Surratt, who was making his first career college start, had gone 12-for-14 passing for 168 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 34 yards in the first half before leaving the game with the injury.
Harris, who started the season opener against California, performed well in relief, completing 17-of-23 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown.
“We were going to give [Harris] a chance and he came out and did a really nice job.” said Fedora. “Chazz probably could’ve gone, I’m not sure he would’ve been 100 percent. We will see how it plays out tomorrow. The plan was to start Chazz and then play it by ear from there.”
Both Surratt and Harris played well Saturday afternoon, making the Tar Heels’ approach to the quarterback situation next week against Old Dominion interesting, especially if Surratt, the 2015 North Carolina high school player of the year, is healthy enough to play.
“He had a fantastic day, both [Harris] and Chazz, and that’s huge for everybody because it starts with the quarterback.” said junior wide receiver Thomas Jackson, who caught Harris’ touchdown pass from 22 yards out late in the third quarter to give the Tar Heels a 28-27 lead.
UNC’s loss marks the first time since 2010 that the Tar heels have started a season 0-2. Louisville is home next Saturday as they take on the defending national champions, No. 3 Clemson, in what now figures to be a primetime affair in the Derby City.
*Additional reporting done by Adesina O. Koiki, ALOST editor-in-chief.