CHAPEL HILL - If it wasn't for Johnny White, North Carolina wouldn't have enjoyed its homecoming as much as Mike Paulus enjoyed his.
While the former UNC quarterback nearly led William & Mary to a big upset, White came through with fourth-quarter heroics to lead Carolina to a 21-17 win against the Tribe.
"Johnny White showed up big time," UNC coach Butch Davis said. "He gave us the play we needed to flip the emotions and flip the score."
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That play was a 67-yard touchdown with 5 ½ minutes remaining in the game that completed Carolina's comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit.
It helped the senior tailback to a career-high 164 yards, equaling the most by any Tar Heel in a game under Davis.
"The offensive line just came together," White said. "Every drive in the second half counted. We felt a sense of urgency. It felt like in the second half, we couldn't waste any possessions."
Before White blew past a nine-man front and scored with just one man getting a hand on him, it looked like Paulus might spoil UNC's homecoming weekend with his return to Kenan Stadium.
The last time Paulus played here, as a Tar Heel in 2008, it was an absolute disaster: Replacing an injured T.J. Yates against Virginia Tech, he threw two interceptions as the Hokies came back to score 17 unanswered points and beat UNC.
After starting and being replaced the following week at Miami, he never played another snap in a Carolina uniform.
This time, Paulus - who talked playful trash via text message with his former teammates all week - fared far better for most of the game.
He entered on William & Mary's first series when starter Mike Callahan went down with an injury and led the Tribe (6-2) to a 17-7 halftime advantage.
"Give all credit to Mike Paulus," said UNC cornerback Kendric Burney, who saw his first action of the season after being held out seven games. "A lot of critics were on him about how bad he was here, but he was a Division I quarterback. Mike Paulus threw some great balls in the first half. We just made some corrections and came back and competed."
Paulus finished with an impressive line of 209 passing yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-35 passing. And unlike his last time here, he didn't throw any interceptions.
But UNC's defense held the Tribe to 94 yards of offense in the second half, giving the Carolina offense a chance to get itself together.
Eventually, it did.
Starting with the last play of the third quarter, the Tar Heels (5-3) went on an 18-play drive that went 90 yards and took 6 ½ minutes and ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Yates to Ryan Taylor.
They got several big catches on the drive from Dwight Jones, who had a career-high nine catches for 107 yards, the second time this year he has eclipsed the century mark.
More importantly, the Tar Heel offense got its confidence back.
"I looked at the kids on the sidelines, and they knew we were in a hole," Davis said. "We were going to have to dig ourselves out."
With the Tribe in striking distance again after Taylor's score, the table was set for White to make his second long scoring run in as many games.
And in the process, the Tar Heels were able to make sure their former teammate didn't have a better homecoming weekend than they did.
"Mike's a good guy," safety Deunta Williams said. "We loved him while we was here. We love him still."
But not as much as they loved the win.