Balanced Heels beat Cavaliers
Published 7:54 pm Saturday, September 17, 2011
CHAPEL HILL — Bryn Renner threw two touchdown passes and Ryan Houston ran for two scores Saturday to help North Carolina beat Virginia 28-17.
Giovani Bernard ran for 102 yards to lead a strong ground attack for the Tar Heels (3-0, 1-0), who won their first Atlantic Coast Conference opener in 11 years. Dwight Jones and Jheranie Boyd each had TD catches as the UNC offense put together an efficient and relatively mistake-free afternoon.
A week after committing five turnovers against Rutgers, the Tar Heels committed just one — though that fumbled snap near the goal line early in the fourth quarter came after they led 28-10.
Virginia (2-1, 0-1) moved the football, but the Cavaliers repeatedly squandered opportunities in the first half that could’ve made this a different game. Instead, they managed only a 41-yard touchdown catch by Max Milien in the third quarter and a 4-yard keeper by Michael Rocco with 5:09 left.
The Cavaliers finished with 468 total yards to outgain the Tar Heels (401). They also ran for 170 yards against a defense that ranked third nationally by allowing 30 yards per game. But they couldn’t stop Bernard — who had runs of 29 and 40 yards — in a ground attack that finished with 222 yards on 41 carries.
Bernard, a redshirt freshman who missed last season with a knee injury, finished with his first 100-yard game on just 12 carries.
North Carolina hadn’t won an ACC opener since winning at Wake Forest in 2000, a skid that outlasted the tenures of two head coaches and constantly kept it fighting uphill in the league standings. But the Tar Heels are now 3-0 for the second time in three seasons while interim coach Everett Withers remains unbeaten since taking over after the firing of Butch Davis a week before preseason camp.
Houston punched in a pair of touchdowns at the goal line and had just 17 yards on nine carries in a role reminiscent of his past seasons as a short-yardage finisher. Renner had a perfectly thrown 18-yard touchdown to Boyd near the front left pylon for North Carolina’s first score, then threw a 17-yard scoring pass to Jones — who managed to get a foot down in bounds of the left side of the end zone — to push the lead to 21-3 on the opening drive of the second half.
The Tar Heels also forced their first three turnovers of the season. Defensive lineman Sylvester Williams recovered a fumbled snap in the first half, and then safety Matt Merletti intercepted two overthrown passes from Rocco in the final 3 minutes to seal it.
Virginia, meanwhile, had first-half drives end with a missed 45-yard field goal, a fourth-down stop and the fumbled snap.
The Tar Heels played without junior cornerback and punt returner Todd Harrelson, who has been suspended indefinitely for violating team and school rules. The school said his suspension was not related to the NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct.