Heels outlast Terps

CHAPEL HILL--- North Carolina's season finale Saturday afternoon against Maryland turned into a wild affair, with both teams squandering two-touchdown leads over the course of the game and over 80 combined points scored---a new normal it seems for UNC home football games in Kenan Stadium.
But in the end the Tar Heels came out on top, claiming a 45-38 victory that gives UNC its third eight-win campaign in the last five seasons going back to 2008.
The win also gives the returning UNC players a huge positive surge of momentum heading into exams and the offseason, while the departing Tar Heel seniors got a memorable final win on Carolina's home field.
It was a banner day for Tar Heel junior quarterback Bryn Renner, who once again went over 300 yards through the air while tying or setting numerous school records.
Along the way Renner established new UNC school records for touchdown passes in a season, as well as tying the school mark for scoring tosses in a single game, equaling his own mark of five set earlier this season against Louisville, as well as by former Tar Heel signal-callers Kevin Anthony (1985) and Darian Durant (2002).
The wildness started almost as soon as they kicked the ball off, as UNC needed just three plays to race 75 yards on its opening drive to take the lead.
Carolina's opening possession was aided by a long run by Giovani Bernard, and then a 30-yard scoring pass from Renner to tight end Eric Ebron.
Bernard had another huge game, surpassing 150 yards on the ground with one touchdown.
Leading 7-0, UNC quickly got another score following an interception by Darien Rankin, which set the Tar Heels up inside Maryland's five.
Three plays later Quinshad Davis caught the first of his two scoring receptions of the game, and the Tar Heels led 14-0 less than three minutes in.
It looked like Carolina was on its way to Easy Street and a lopsided triumph over the Terrapins that would be decided early, but Randy Edsall's young squad had something to say about that.
Unfazed by UNC's early rally, Maryland's patchwork offense marched 66 yards in 10 plays, culminated by a 1-yard run by Brandon Ross just seconds after he had broken off a 71-yard carry down the sideline.
Ross's first score of the day ignited a Maryland rally that resulted in the Terrapins outscoring UNC 35-7 over two and a third quarters of game action.
Midway through the second period the Terrapins tied the Tar Heels 14-14 on a two-yard blast over the goal line by quarterback Shawn Petty, which was immediately followed by UNC's third scoring drive and Renner's third TD pass, a 12-yard strike in the end zone to junior running back A.J. Blue.
Carolina appeared to have the lead going into halftime following Blue's score with 3:18 left in the second quarter, but again Maryland drove, going 75 yards in eight plays.
The Terrapins crossed up UNC, as tight end Matt Furstenburg scored from eight yards out on a pass by Maryland freshman wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The respect UNC's secondary had to pay to Diggs upon getting the football sprung Furstenburg for his tying touchdown.
Then the Terps caught a real break, recovering a UNC fumble with less than 20 seconds left before halftime and promptly turning it into yet another touchdown, a 28-yard scoring pass from Petty to Kevin Dorsey.
Remarkably, it was Maryland who held the upper hand at halftime, 28-21, and then they scored first in the third quarter as well thanks to a 100-yard kickoff return for a score by Diggs on the opening play of the third period.
With the Terrapins briefly holding a 35-21 lead, there was an eerie quiet that held over Kenan Stadium, but Renner quickly got the Tar Heels back on track with a bullet to Davis. The UNC freshman receiver caught Renner's ball, made a move and found himself free behind the Maryland secondary.
Fifty yards later and Davis had his second score, and UNC pulled within 35-28.
UNC's defense, beaten down up to this point, stepped up in a big way in the third quarter, holding Maryland's offense without any additional points following Diggs' kickoff return.
Slightly two minutes after Davis's touchdown the Tar Heels found the end zone again, as Renner used brilliant touch to find Erik Highsmith in the right corner for the tying score.
Highsmith was well-covered on the 15-yard scoring pass, but Renner put the ball in a place where the defender couldn't do much but watch Highsmith sail over him for a touchdown catch.
UNC's defense kept the pressure on, forcing a punt, and Carolina's unanswered scoring run went to 17-0 at the 6:58 mark of the third quarter, as Thomas Moore connected on a field goal to give UNC a 38-35 lead, its first advantage in the ballgame since late in the second quarter.
Then after another UNC defensive stop, Bernard scored UNC's final touchdown on a 1-yard scamper, making the score 45-35 with 3:06 to play in the third quarter.
Although the Tar Heels failed to score over the game's final 18 minutes, they did a fantastic job of keeping the Terrapins from repeating its first half offensive explosion over the final 30 minutes.
Maryland could only muster a single field goal in the fourth quarter, which pulled them to within a touchdown. UNC strung together a couple of first downs to run out the clock.
Stay tuned for much more postgame coverage here at Tar Heel Illustrated.