The Tar Heels delivered a big win to a group of football Lettermen attending on Monogram Day Saturday in Chapel Hill, rallying in the second half to dispatch San Diego State 31-27.
Carolina is now 2-0 with a week off before traveling to East Carolina on Sept. 20 for a 3:30 kick-off against the Pirates. Both wins have featured second-half comebacks and multiple takeaways—the Tar Heels forced six turnovers against Liberty in their opener and three more against the Aztecs, turning two of them into 10 points.
“Tonight was an amazing job persevering and maintaining a positive attitude throughout the game,” coach Larry Fedora said. “I’m very proud of the way they reacted. We put all this emphasis on creating takeaways, nine in two weeks, and it’s paying off for us.”
A team that starts only four seniors and entered camp with a staggering 67 underclassmen out of 105 players—40 freshmen and 27 sophomores—is certainly going to battle depth and attrition as the year evolves. Much of the Tar Heels’ success or lack thereof will come down to luck and the nuances of injuries.
Through training camp, Carolina was relatively healthy, with only the loss of receiver T.J. Thorpe to a foot injury among major casualties. Then senior Bandit Norkeithus Otis suffered a leg injury before the opener, missed parts of that game and was in street clothes for San Diego State. Otis’s fellow Bandit Shakeel Rashad fell to a shoulder injury in the first half, and until his return in the second half, the Tar Heels were relegated to playing sophomore Mikey Bart and walk-on Alex Bales at their key outside pass-rush position.
The big blow Saturday was to junior guard Landon Turner, by far the team’s most experienced and talented offensive lineman. He left with a knee injury in the first half. That he was on the sideline walking in sweat clothes in the second half and the fact that as of two days later, no word had come from the football office that Turner was lost for the year augers for the idea that he can return at some point.
Elsewhere, the Tar Heels certainly have plenty of outstanding skill players. Already Mack Hollins, Brian Walker and Elijah Hood are among newcomers making their mark with big plays on both sides of the ball.
“We didn’t play great by any means but we responded and we made great plays when we had to make them,” Fedora said. “That says a lot about our guys. The crowd was unbelievable. I’ve got to give the kids the student section, the Tar Pit was awesome. Everyone was on their feet, it just an awesome atmosphere tonight.”