UNC routs No. 24 UConn 38-12
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—North Carolina kept sending a linebacker at the punter, kept handing off to a former safety and somehow put its bulky defensive tackle in position to intercept a pass.
The Tar Heels’ defense got offensive—and for that matter, so did the offense and special teams—and that led to a statement victory.
Converted safety Shawn Draughn rushed for a career-high 109 yards and a touchdown, defensive lineman Marvin Austin returned an interception 23 yards for another score and North Carolina routed No. 24 Connecticut 38-12 on Saturday night.
Bruce Carter blocked three punts, Matt Merletti fell on one of them for a touchdown and Draughn’s 39-yard touchdown run started the game-breaking sequence that gave the Tar Heels their first win over a ranked team in three years.
“To see a guy go and block three punts, man, that could be the difference in the game,” Austin said. “And then with Shawn running the ball and being able to elude some guys, it helps us on defense, it gives us a lot of time to rest and also gives our offense a lot of confidence to go down there and score.”
Ryan Houston had a 1-yard score and Cameron Sexton threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks for North Carolina (4-1), which overcame some shortcomings on the stat sheet by scoring 21 points off Husky mistakes. UConn outgained the Tar Heels 378-263 and had a 10-minute advantage in time of possession, but couldn’t overcome three interceptions by new starter Zach Frazer.
“That was just way too many penalties, way too many turnovers, way too many mistakes for a UConn football team tonight, and again, I’m responsible,” coach Randy Edsall said.
Donald Brown ran for 161 yards—20 below his average—with a touchdown for the Huskies (5-1). But 93 of those yards came in the fourth quarter, well after this one was decided.
“We had the nation’s leading rusher coming in here,” Austin said, “and I think we did a pretty good job with him.”
Draughn, a former safety, became the first North Carolina running back to hit triple digits this season, and gave his team separation midway through the third quarter, taking a handoff from Sexton and racing up the middle to make it 24-6.
“I don’t even think I got touched,” Draughn said.
Frazer’s third interception came about 2 minutes later, and sealed it. Frazer was being spun by defensive end E.J. Wilson and tried to throw the ball away when Austin plucked it out of the air and jogged into the end zone.
“I’ve been dreaming about that for years,” Austin said.
Frazer completed 24 of 42 passes for 210 yards in place of injured starter Tyler Lorenzen, who’s out with a broken right foot.
Making his first start since 2006, Sexton was 9-of-16 for 117 yards with an interception, but led the Tar Heels to their first nonconference victory over a Top 25 team since beating then-No. 17 Stanford in 1997. They had lost nine straight against ranked teams since upsetting then-No. 19 Boston College in 2005.
Yet this was no upset: North Carolina entered as a seven-point favorite.
“Our kids are doing a great job of keeping things in perspective,” coach Butch Davis said. “We’re just kind of chipping away, trying to get better every week and trying to play 12 consecutive one-game schedules.”
UConn outgained the Tar Heels 169-107 in the first half, had the ball for nearly twice as long—and still trailed 17-3 because of mistakes by Frazer and the punt team.
“It’s like it went wrong everywhere,” punter Desi Cullen said.
Mark Paschal returned one interception 23 yards to set up Houston’s 1-yard touchdown run that made it 10-3 and put North Carolina ahead to stay. In the final seconds of the half, Frazer threw another pick deep in Tar Heel territory.
In between, Carter got a hand on three straight punts by Cullen, who admitted he was trying to keep the ball from North Carolina star returner Brandon Tate.
“If I missed it one way or the other, it could end up in (Tate’s) hands, which is usually a bad thing,” Cullen said.
The North Carolina linebacker overwhelmed him in the end zone for his third block, and Merletti plopped on it to stretch the lead to 14. It was Carter’s fourth block of the season, tying the school’s single-season record—and all four took place in a three-quarter span. Block No. 1 came in the fourth quarter of last week’s win at Miami.
Tony Ciaravino kicked field goals of 26 and 31 yards for UConn. Casey Barth added one from 31 yards out for North Carolina.
The game was delayed for 22 minutes early in the third quarter when two banks of lights temporarily went dark.