Late safety bails out No. 19 UNC vs. UConn
North Carolina needed to make a big defensive stop, and wound up getting some help from Connecticut’s Dan Ryan.
The Huskies’ senior tackle was flagged for holding defensive end Robert Quinn in the end zone with 1:32 left in the game Saturday, giving the No. 19 Tar Heels a safety and a 12-10 comeback win over the Huskies.
“I had him beat around the corner,” Quinn said. “I was just out there trying to make a play, and then I saw the flag.”
The play capped a 12-point fourth quarter for North Carolina (2-0). Casey Barth started the comeback with a 22-yard field goal, and T.J. Yates led the team on a 13-play drive that ended with his 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zack Pianalto with 2:36 left.
Pianalto hurt his leg jumping up and down after the score and had to be taken from the field in an air cast, another bizarre moment from a game that ended in crazy fashion.
After the safety, UConn recovered the onside kick but couldn’t get into field-goal range.
“I told the chancellor, ‘That’s why you don’t see any 100-year-old football coaches,”‘ said North Carolina coach Butch Davis.
The Tar Heels are 3-0 against the Huskies, while UConn has just one win in 14 games against Top 25 opponents.
UConn (1-1) was playing without its best defensive player, injured linebacker Scott Lutrus, and lost starting quarterback Zack Frazer to a knee injury late in the third quarter.
The Huskies’ stifling defense held North Carolina scoreless and with just 134 yards of offense through three quarters. They sacked Yates six times and intercepted him twice.
A 47-yard field goal from Dave Teggart at the halftime buzzer gave UConn a 3-0 lead. The Huskies seemed poised for an upset after cornerback Robert McClain batted Yates’ pass into the hands of Twyon Martin at the Tar Heels 26 late in the third quarter.
UConn tailback Jordan Todman dragged several defenders the final four yards for the score, putting the Huskies up 10-0.
“We slugged it out for the whole game,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall. “We just couldn’t make that play when we needed to, and that’s the bottom line.”
Yates, who completed 23 of 32 passes for 233 yards and two interceptions, found his groove in the fourth quarter. He led the Tar Heels on a 78-yard drive that ended with Barth’s field goal, and when UNC got the ball back, he marched 78-yards again, eating up 6:36 before finding Pianalto in the end zone from 2-yards out.
“We were just making adjustments on the run, throwing formations we hadn’t even practiced all week,” Yates said. “(We’d) pick things up, draw something in the dirt, see if that works, try something new out and see if that works. Once that was working, we just kept at it and kept at it and moved the ball down the field.”
The Huskies held North Carolina to just 65 yards in the first half, and pressured Yates all day, sacking him six times. But North Carolina’s defense held UConn to 196 yards, and dominated the Huskies in the fourth quarter.
UConn got the ball at the 20 after the tying touchdown, but a snap over backup quarterback Cody Endres’ head on second down put the ball at the 8-yard line.
Endres scrambled away from the pass rush on third down, and completed a 16-yard pass to Todman that would have given the Huskies a fourth-and-6. But there was the flag in the end zone, and the safety that gave North Carolina the lead.
“I didn’t even know that was a rule,” said Tar Heels cornerback Charles Brown Jr. “I heard the coaches screaming, ‘Safety, safety safety,’ so I started jumping up and down (yelling) ‘Safety, safety.”‘