Tar Heels run past Pirates|RBs Draughn, White combine for 277 yards

Published 8:25 pm Sunday, October 3, 2010

By By AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
CHAPEL HILL — Shaun Draughn needed some time to look like his old self after missing North Carolina’s opener due to an ongoing NCAA investigation.
Da’Norris Searcy, however, didn’t wait to make an impact.
Draughn scored three second-half touchdowns while Searcy returned an interception for a touchdown in his first game back to help the Tar Heels beat East Carolina 42-17 on Saturday, their second straight win after an 0-2 start.
Draughn ran for 137 yards for the still-depleted Tar Heels (2-2), who were without 11 players amid the NCAA review into agent-related benefits and possible academic misconduct. Johnny White also ran for a career-high 140 yards while T.J. Yates threw two TD passes as North Carolina beat its instate rival here for the second straight season.
North Carolina won at Rutgers last week, then dominated after halftime to give the two-time defending Conference USA champion Pirates (2-2) their worst loss since a 48-7 defeat at West Virginia in September 2007.
‘‘We’ve had a lot of off-the-field stuff that’s distracting,’’ Yates said, ‘‘but this team has done an amazing job of just blocking it out and moving on.’’
Draughn had only 14 carries behind White in his first two games. But with White hobbled by an ankle injury, Draughn got 22 carries for 120 yards in the second half as North Carolina pulled away.
Draughn even got carries near the goal-line, which he joked was ‘‘unfamiliar territory’’ since that job typically falls to Ryan Houston — one of nine players whose status remains in question due to the NCAA probe. Draughn took advantage with a 1-yard run late in the third to make it 28-17, then bulled over defenders at the pylon for a 4-yard score midway through the fourth.
He scored on a 13-yard run in the final minute, capping an eight-play drive in which he carried the ball on every play.
‘‘I feel like those two games were to get my feet back under me,’’ Draughn said. ‘‘I wanted to play (more), but of course, Coach (Butch Davis) knew I needed to get my feet under me. But I’m getting back and getting that rhythm back.’’
It marked the first time in six years that the Tar Heels had a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game, and the first time in five years that the Pirates had allowed two 100-yard rushers. North Carolina finished with 263 yards rushing, more than their first three games combined.
‘‘With the things (Davis has) going on, to hold the team together like he has and get them to play, my hat has to go off to this group,’’ East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. ‘‘I told him that after the football game.’’
The Tar Heels got a boost from Searcy, a safety who started every game last season. The school had held him out of the first three games to determine his eligibility before he was cleared Thursday. The announcement came so late in the week that Davis wondered exactly how much Searcy could contribute.
But Searcy made a huge play, grabbing an overthrown pass from Dominique Davis then cutting back inside of Dwayne Harris’ attempted tackle for a 46-yard return that tied it at 14 heading into halftime.
‘‘The whole pregame, I was just out there crying and jumping around,’’ Searcy said. ‘‘I was so glad to be out there.’’
That was the highlight of a solid defensive effort, with the Pirates’ spread offense rolling to 131 yards in the first quarter but managing fewer yards with each period. The Tar Heels did it without leading tackler Quan Sturdivant, who sat out with a hamstring injury.
The offense didn’t look particularly sharp, with Yates overthrowing three long passes that could’ve gone for touchdowns. But the Tar Heels avoided turnovers for the first time this season.
Davis threw for 244 yards and a touchdown, and Harris threw a 39-yard score as the Pirates got off to a fast start. But Davis threw three interceptions as the game steadily slipped away, with the Tar Heels outscoring the Pirates 35-3 in the final 33 minutes.
‘‘They think they’re better than us, but I feel they’re really not,’’ ECU running Jon Williams said. ‘‘Everybody on this team knows that. We just shot ourselves in the foot. There was no way they were supposed to win this game. The better team did not win this game.’’