CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The North Carolina Tar Heels opened the 2017-2018 season with a 35-30 loss to the California Golden Bears at Keenan Stadium on Saturday.
As a result of both teams meeting for the first time, combined with each utilizing young quarterbacks, the first half of this season-opening ACC/Pac12 matchup was a conservative one.
The Tar Heels didn’t have a decisive pick in the quarterback position, so both Brandon Harris and Chazz Surratt took snaps to see how the offense would function with each.
While Surratt redshirted last season, Harris a transfer from LSU with 25 games and 13 collegiate starts and 20 TD’s to his credit, started under center for the Tar Heels.
Ross Bowers, a redshirt sophomore, was recently tabbed the Bears’ starting quarterback.
Having only appeared in one game last season (against UCLA), the start against UNC would be his first.
Bowers didn’t disappoint in putting the ball in the air, finishing 24-of-38 for 363 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
He kept the Bears offense churning, even while trailing after three quarters of play.
Harris ended the game 7-of-16 (60 yards), while Surrat went 18-of-28 for 161 yards for one touchdown.
The Tar Heels utilized their run game effectively to test the Cal defense and got Harris and Surratt comfortable leading the offense early on.
Play opened up near the end of the first half as UNC led by 10 before a late hit from defensive tackle Jalen Dalton literally woke Bowers and the Bears offense up.
With Dalton ejected and working the ball on a fresh first down to start its drive, Cal scored on a 67-yard aerial connection from Bowers to Vic Wharton III that cut the deficit to three.
UNC led 17-14 at halftime.
Both offenses opened up which also gave the defense opportunities to shine.
With 5:36 to go in the third quarter, a missed 45-yard field goal attempt by the Tar Heels’ Freeman Jones set the table for Cal to take its first lead of the game.
Bowers found Patrick Laird open to finish a 54-yard play just over a minute later.
Alternating pickoffs by both teams then followed.
Cal’s Derron Brown got in the way of a Harris pass, but didn’t result in any offensive gain by the Bears as a pickoff and 73-yard return by UNC linebacker Andre Smith cut the drive short.
Starting with the ball on the Cal four-yard line, Surratt eventually connected on a pylon-cutting pass to receiver Thomas Jackson that put the Tar Heels back ahead, 24-21.
It didn’t take Bowers and the Bears long to take the lead back early in the fourth when a 20-yard strike to Jordan Duncan was greeted with open arms.
Trailing 28-24, and with time running short, the Tar Heels defense was tasked to pressure Bowers more.
However, the quarterback remained poised, found openings and completed passes and rushed to open space that eventually put the Bears in position to score once more.
With the ball on the UNC four-yard line, Cal worked the clock down for small gains, looking at third-and-goal with 2:15 to play.
Running back Vic Enwere scored off the next snap and increased the Bears’ lead to 35-24.
With less than two minutes to play, UNC cut its loss to five as Surratt converted on a one-yard run for the final play of the game.
1Q: UNC 7, Cal 7
Halftime: UNC 17, Cal 14
3Q: UNC 24, Cal 21
Final: Cal 35, UNC 30