CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Dallas Crawford knew Miami needed a big game from him after its top rusher went down to an early injury. He delivered with a performance that kept the 10th-ranked Hurricanes unbeaten — barely.
The redshirt sophomore ran for a career-high 137 yards, including the go-ahead 3-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left that gave Miami a 27-23 victory over North Carolina on Thursday night.
Crawford’s second short score ended a 90-yard drive by the Hurricanes (6-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who lost top rusher Duke Johnson to an early injury. But Crawford topped his season rushing totals in one game, carrying the ball 33 times and scoring twice in the final quarter to help the Hurricanes avoid a big upset against the desperate Tar Heels (1-5, 0-3).
“We’re resilient,” Crawford said. “We’ve been through a lot over the years. It took a long time to get to this point. In years past, we probably would have lost this game. But it’s all about believing, and that’s what we did tonight.”
Miami’s players certainly had every reason to believe this just wasn’t their night.
Johnson left in the first quarter with an undisclosed injury, starting a run of injuries that also included starting receiver Phillip Dorsett suffering an apparent left knee injury that had him standing on the sideline with crutches by halftime.
There was quarterback Stephen Morris throwing four interceptions to match his season total.
There was a defense ranked among the nation’s best that gave up a season-high 500 yards and struggled to stop UNC tight end Eric Ebron.
Yet at the end, the Hurricanes rallied from 10 down early in the fourth quarter to keep themselves in position for a Coastal Division crown and an appearance in the ACC championship game — though they still have games against No. 5 Florida State and No. 19 Virginia Tech.
“There’s no turning back for this group right now,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “They’re not turning back. There’s no finger-pointing. They’re too invested in each other and in what they’ve given and what they’ve sacrificed to turn back.
“I told them all week we were going to have to win this game by playing until there were four zeros, and that was right until the very end.”
That’s when Miami got the stop it needed, with Bryn Renner’s final heave into the end zone from the Miami 28 falling incomplete on the final play.
It sealed the latest stinging setback for the Tar Heels, who entered the year with hopes of winning the division but now find themselves off to their worst start since 2006. They led this one 23-13 early in the fourth only to see Crawford score twice in the final 11 minutes to erase the deficit.
North Carolina was playing only the second Thursday night home game in program history, breaking out black helmets and uniforms for a night it billed as “Zero Dark Thursday” all the way back in April. And the Tar Heels nearly earned their first win against a top-10 opponent since beating then-No. 4 Miami here on a last-second field goal in 2004.
Instead, the Hurricanes are 6-0 for the first time since that season.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys hurting in that locker room down there,” second-year UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “A bunch of guys that played their tails off tonight, gave everything they had, they did everything we asked. … Just a tough one to swallow for us right now.”
Ebron finished with eight catches for 199 yards — a single-game record for North Carolina tight end — and a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the first quarter. But Ebron had just two catches after halftime, while the Tar Heels settled for three field goals on drives that pushed inside the 20 on the night.
Miami got a boost when Ladarius Gunter returned a blocked field goal 67 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Meanwhile, Crawford kept the offense moving even as Morris kept turning the ball over against the Tar Heels’ maligned defense.
“Obviously, things went terribly wrong for me offensively,” Morris said. “Our biggest focus was just trying to put that behind us and focus on this last drive, really.”