The last time Mack Brown coached at North Carolina, Sam Howell wasn’t alive.
On Saturday, Howell delivered Brown a victory over South Carolina in the coach’s return to college football.
Howell, a true freshman quarterback, threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to bring the Tar Heels back from 11 points down to a 24-20 victory in the season opener for both teams at Charlotte, N.C.
It was Brown’s first game on a college sideline since he resigned at Texas in December 2013. Before taking charge of the Longhorns, Brown coached for 10 seasons at North Carolina, from 1988-97.
Through three quarters, however, it looked like the Tar Heels’ third-down offense forgot to follow Brown out of the tunnel. While North Carolina dominated the first three quarters statistically — piling up 345 yards to the Gamecocks’ 247 and controlling the ball for 25:17 of the game’s first 45 minutes — the Tar Heels scored only nine points on three field goals and trailed 20-9 heading into the fourth.
But Howell capped a seven-play, 98-yard drive with a 22-yard scoring pass to Dyami Brown just 33 seconds into the fourth. Howell ran in the two-point conversion to draw the Tar Heels to within 20-17. Following a South Carolina punt, North Carolina went 95 yards on seven plays, with Howell hitting Beau Corrales from 17 yards out for the 24-20 lead.
Howell finished the game 15 of 24 for 245 yards with the two touchdowns and no interceptions as North Carolina broke a three-game losing streak to South Carolina, beating the Gamecocks for the first time since 1991.
Senior Jake Bentley, a four-year starter for South Carolina at quarterback, was 16 of 30 for 142 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was intercepted inside the red zone with less than two minutes remaining, then failed to even get a throw off on a last-play Hail Mary attempt.
The stars of the first half for both teams were the defenses and special teams. Nine of the 11 combined first-half drives ended with some sort of kick, with a touchdown and end-of-half kneel-down ending the other two drives.
South Carolina’s Parker White made a 32-yard field goal, and Noah Ruggles answered with a hit 22-yard kick for North Carolina. South Carolina provided the game’s first big play on the third drive of the game, with Tavien Feaster running it in from 34 yards out to make it 10-3.
White hit a 39-yarder and Ruggles connected from 24 yards in the second quarter as South Carolina took a 13-6 lead into the half.
—Field Level Media