Canes Fall to North Carolina on Senior Day

by David Villavicencio

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – It took until the final game of the season, but the Miami Hurricanes dropped a game inside Hard Rock Stadium for the first time in 2020.

The No. 8/9 Canes fell to No. 20 North Carolina, 62-26, as UNC running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter combined for 544 rushing yards and five touchdowns to lead a potent Tar Heels’ offense that amassed over 750 total yards on Saturday.

“We got our ass kicked. It was a humiliating performance,” head coach Manny Diaz said. “We have to give credit to North Carolina. They were phenomenal. That was probably as good as they can play matched up with probably as badly as we can play and that’s the result. We had a good week. I felt like we were ready. It’s very peculiar and different from anything I’ve seen. That’s just not the way that we play. We’ll have to take a hard look at the film. Thank goodness that we have a chance to play another game and end 2020 on the right note. I did tell the players that it has been a long year. Over the course of the year, I am still proud of what they’ve done and finishing the season 8-2. We do not have to be defined by this year, but we damn sure better learn a lesson from it.”

The Hurricanes (8-2, 7-2 ACC) looked to some seniors to get some points on the opening drive on Saturday. Quarterback D’Eriq King connected with fellow senior Mike Harley for a 17-yard pass and catch, while King led the way with 27 rushing yards to help set up Jose Borregales for a 47-yard field goal that gave Miami a three-point lead after just three minutes of game action.

But momentum swung towards the Tar Heels on the next drive and North Carolina never looked back. It all began with a big play that set them up for a score, as quarterback Sam Howell hit Dyami Brown deep for a 51-yard gain to the Miami 12. Four plays later, Williams ran into the end zone from a yard out to put North Carolina ahead, 7-3.

UNC (8-3, 7-3 ACC) doubled its tally on its next possession with Williams capping an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown that gave the Tar Heels a 14-3 advantage with 2:33 remaining in the opening quarter.

Facing a fourth-and-1 from the UNC 35, Miami elected to go for it but came up short as Donald Chaney Jr. was stopped for no gain. The Tar Heels capitalized on the stop, as Carter took a handoff on the very next snap and sprinted for a 65-yard touchdown that gave UNC a 21-3 lead.

“They didn’t run any plays tonight that we didn’t practice against or expect to see,” Diaz said. “When you’re not playing your best, that’s what it looks like, especially against a really explosive offensive football team. I’ll be able to say more next week after I watch the film. Our enthusiasm and energy were lacking and then everything becomes difficult when that’s not there.”

The Tar Heels scored on all six of their drives in the first half, but Miami found its way to the end zone just before the intermission. King connected with Harley on a two-yard touchdown pass to wrap up a 12-play, 75-yard drive and send the teams into the locker room with UNC leading, 34-10.

“It wasn’t good in any phase of the game,” King said. “I think we came out flat. We didn’t play as good as we can tonight, not even close. But you’ve got you got to learn from it though, just like anything else in life. If you fall down, you’ve got to get back up from it; you can’t let it keep you down. There’s a lot we can learn from this game. We can’t come out here and just expect to win. You’ve got to expect to win, but you’ve got to play like it. You can just roll your helmets up, put a uniform on and think everything’s going to be all good. We got whooped in all phases of the game, but you’ve got to learn from it and move on.”

North Carolina continued its success on offense to open the second half with Howell scoring a two-yard rushing touchdown.

The Hurricanes answered with a quick strike drive of their own, as King hit tight end Brevin Jordan over the middle of the field for a 76-yard touchdown. Miami went for two and got it, with King completing a two-yard pass to Cam’Ron Harris that made it 41-18 with 6:49 left in the third quarter.

North Carolina missed a 37-yard field goal on its next drive, snapping a streak of seven consecutive scoring drives for the Tar Heels. But UNC would intercept a deep throw from King to Dee Wiggins, as Tony Grimes came down with the ball on the Carolina 24 to return possession to the Tar Heels.

UNC converted the turnover into points, as Carter ran for a 58-yard gain two plays into the drive and Howell caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Rontavious Groves on a trick play to gives the Heels at 30-point lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter.

“I think a disappointing part and where I have to better job is that obviously we did not make the adjustments through the course of the game on what they were doing to get stops,” Diaz said. “They were able to continue to do the same two or three things over and over again and have the success that they had. Once you’ve got those backs out in the open field, then they really become a problem. We were not ourselves tonight and that was the disappointing part and that is going to make everything look really bad against a motivated football team. The biggest disappointment is that, with everything on the line tonight, we took our eye off the ball.”

Miami added eight more points on their next drive, as Harris ran into the end zone from eight yards out and King found tight end Will Mallory on a two-point conversion pass that made it 48-26 with 12:42 remaining.

Down 22 points, the Canes tried an onside kick but could not recover and UNC started its next possession in UM territory at the 46. The Tar Heels capitalized on the short field and scored another touchdown when Howell connected with Kamari Morales for a five-yard TD that put UNC ahead by 29.

Williams scored his third rushing touchdown of the game with 3:58 left to play, a one-yard run that got Carolina over 60 points on the evening.

“We are who we are. We learned a harsh lesson tonight,” Diaz said. “It’s worth one loss in the standings. We still have the ability to decide what we do next. How long have we been in this tug-of-war of where do we stand? We’re not really interested in all of that because it doesn’t matter. What matters is how we continue to improve the program. Obviously, we have to coach a lot better than we did tonight. We have to continue to recruit a lot better and get our guys competing. I’m still going to look at the end of the season and the totality of the entire year. There is a lot to be proud of. Our guys have been at this thing for a long time and something caught up to us tonight. I did not recognize the football team that I saw on the field tonight and I bear the responsibility for that.”