By R.L. Bynum
RALEIGH — It had been a frustrating couple of weeks for Javonte Williams.
The rugged, bruising North Carolina running back, who suffered an upper-body injury in the Pittsburgh loss, wasn’t at full strength and got only 11 carries the last two games while trying to get healthy.
Then, on Saturday, he had a couple of first-half runs — with plenty of open field in front of him — ruined because he slipped on the natural grass at Carter-Finley Stadium. At halftime, he had only had four carries for 7 yard.
Then he got unleashed.
Williams finally broke through on a 26-yard touchdown run on his fifth carry of the game and ended up with three touchdowns, all in the third quarter, to jump-start the Tar Heels’ offense.
UNC turned three turnovers into touchdowns and scored 28 third-quarter points (the most in a quarter this season) as they earned a bowl bid with a 41-10 victory over N.C State on Saturday night, ending a three-game losing streak against its rival.
“I really think the touchdown, it kind of killed N.C. State’s pride and that’s when we woke up,” Williams, who finished with 58 yards, said of his first score.
Williams’ initial touchdown, with 10:07 left in the third period, turned the Tar Heels’ offensive fortunes and opened up the passing game. Williams accounted for 40 of the 47 yards on the next drive, which capped with an 11-yard scoring reception with five minutes left in the quarter. After he added a 6-yard scoring run with 2:08 left, UNC was in full control.
“Without a doubt, we fell apart there in the third quarter,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “There were three straight drives with turnovers offensively and we did not stop them defensively.”
After Carolina rushed for only 24 yards in the first half, they ran for 83 in the third quarter, 49 from Williams, and finished with 183.
Williams, who won a state title his sophomore year at Carter-Finley for Wallace-Rose Hill, made his third-quarter heroics sound so simple.
“I just felt like when Coach got on us in the locker room, he challenged the O-line and they just came on harder,” Williams said. “When they did, they opened holes and I just ran through them.”
Part of the halftime adjustments included where UNC was running.
“We were probably trying to run up inside too much and when we worked on the corners, we did a better job with that the second half,” Coach Mack Brown said.
Williams, who said he isn’t 100% but is getting close, said his footing issues in the first half were frustrating.
“I was down on myself in the first half,” he said. “But after I changed my cleats, I didn’t slip anymore.”
After a fumble ended UNC’s first drive, N.C. State drove 80 yards on 10 plays to produce a 30-yard field goal from Christopher Dunn with 5:59 left in the first quarter.
UNC took a 6-3 lead when a pair of second-quarter drives stalled near the goal line. Noah Ruggles easily converted on a 20-yard boot with 9:09 left and a 32-yard kick with 4:13 left.
State quarterback Devin Leary connected on a 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tabari Hines to make it 10-6 with 1:25 left in the first half as the Wolfpack took the halftime lead.
Six points were the fewest for the Tar Heels at halftime since the opening-season victory over South Carolina.
“I thought our guys played with a lot of heart in the first half, “ Doeren said. “We did absolutely everything possible to lose that game in the third quarter.”
BOX SCORE (NCAA.COM)
A freshman-like decision from Howell
Sam Howell hasn’t made a lot of bad decisions during his freshman year. But one late in the first half led to the Wolfpack’s only touchdown.
On a play in which Howell probably should have thrown the ball away, he threw into traffic. The ball was tipped and Wolfpack linebacker Payton Wilson, who originally committed to UNC, snagged the ill-advised toss.
Five plays later, N.C. State had that touchdown and the lead.
He more than compensated, though, with three touchdown passes and a season-high 401 passing yards while connecting on 23 of 33 passes.
Howell’s 35 touchdown passes ties Clemson’s Deshawn Watson for fourth-most in a season in ACC history.
Turnovers finally come for the Tar Heels
To say that Carolina’s defense hasn’t forced many mistakes this season is an understatement. The Tar Heels came into the game with 20 points off turnovers all season.
Carolina scored 21 off turnovers in the third quarter alone.
Don Chapman’s interception led to Williams’ first score and Jeremiah Gemmel’s fumble recovery led to Williams’ third touchdown. Late in the period, Trey Morrison’s interception set up a 52-yard touchdown pass from Howell to Dyami Brown.
The turnovers led to four third-quarter touchdowns. UNC had four third-quarter touchdowns all season before Saturday.
It wasn’t a turnover, but Carolina’s defense stopped N.C. State on fourth down at the UNC 13. That started a drive that ended with a 13-yard scoring play from Howell to Dazz Newsome.
Myles Dorn joined in midway through the fourth quarter with an interception.
Time to go bowling
After starting 2-0, a bowl game seemed likely for Carolina. Many close losses later, that was only assured after the victory over the Wolfpack.
What is North Carolina’s destination? The consensus best guess entering the weekend was that the Tar Heels would be headed to Annapolis, Md., to likely face home-standing Navy in the Military Bowl, although the Independence Bowl is also a possibility.
The Military Bowl had two representatives at Saturday’s game and the Independence had one.
UNC went into the weekend with an outside shot at a Tier 1 bowl, but that would require plenty of help. But that was out of the Tar Heels’ hands. They did what they could control to assure a bowl trip somewhere — and the extra practices that will be valuable for a team full of young players.
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