North Carolina experienced a feeling on Nov. 9 it had not felt since mid-September. Coming off a 34-31 win at Pittsburgh, the Tar Heels seek their first two-game winning streak in over a year when FCS foe Western Carolina visits Saturday.
“It was great to go into the locker room and see the smiles on the guys’ faces. I really wanted this one for them and the coaching staff,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said after the game. “These guys work hard and they deserve to have this feeling.” Anthony Ratliff-Williams returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, passed for a TD, caught a scoring pass and accounted for 230 all-purpose yards as the Tar Heels snapped a six-game losing streak. Left-handed sophomore Nathan Elliott completed 20-of-31 passes for 235 yards and two scores without a turnover in an impressive first start. Western Carolina dropped a disappointing 35-33 home decision to Mercer last week, likely ending any hopes the Catamounts had of qualifying for its second-ever FCS playoff.
TV: 3 p.m. ET, ACC Network Extra
ABOUT WESTERN CAROLINA (7-4): The Catamounts twice fought to within two points in the fourth quarter behind a season-high 378 passing yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Tyrie Adams before falling to Mercer. “I hurt for these seniors and our program because (the FCS playoffs) was the next step in moving our football program forward,” coach Mark Speir told reporters. “It was a disappointing loss to Mercer. All we can do now is go finish. We’ve got one week guaranteed. We have to go finish.” Senior Detrez Newsome has rushed for 993 yards and a 6.5 yards-per-carry average in just eight games, while Adams has rushed for 697 yards and thrown for 2,225 with 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (2-8): Elliott came in for an injured Chazz Surratt two weeks ago against Miami and completed 16-of-39 passes for 173 yards but threw three interceptions. “It was a big emphasis all week - ball security. The main thing was, I was not going to turn the ball over,” Elliott told reporters. “I had a good feel for the game plan. And I kept my eyes up. Some times in the Miami game, I dropped my eyes. That’s just experience.” Ratliff-Williams caught five passes for 75 yards and Jordon Brown ran for 70 yards on 15 carries to pass the 500-yard mark for the season.
1. The teams have never played, but FCS teams have claimed nine victories against FBS schools this season - one fewer than last season.
2. Ratliff-Williams became just the fourth player in school history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in a single season. He has as many kickoff return touchdowns on the year as the rest of the ACC combined.
3. North Carolina entered the Pitt game with 20 turnovers but committed none against the Panthers.
PREDICTION: North Carolina 44, Western Carolina 17