CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Mack Brown knew he needed to coax some confidence out of his North Carolina players after inheriting a team that frequently found a way to give up leads last season.
Two games in, the Tar Heels are playing like they’re free from that burden — fittingly led by the composed true freshman who isn’t the least bit interested in experiencing any of that frustration.
Sam Howell directed a clutch final drive and found Dazz Newsome just inside the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:01 left, lifting the Tar Heels to a second fourth-quarter comeback in as many weeks and a 28-25 win against Miami on Saturday night.
“I just have confidence in myself, I have confidence in this team,” Howell said. “I have confidence in all 10 guys on the field with me. This is what we do.”
Howell’s perfect throw found Newsome dragging his toes inches from the sideline from 10 yards out. That capped a stunning 75-yard march that included him hitting Rontavius Groves for 20 yards on a fourth-and-17 to keep the drive alive, which came only minutes after the Tar Heels had surrendered the lead on a late Miami touchdown.
Michael Carter’s diving-for-the-pylon 2-point conversion pushed the lead to 28-25, only to see Miami (0-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) drive past midfield to set up a tying field-goal attempt. But Bubba Baxa’s 49-yard kick went wide left, sending several Tar Heels players sprinting toward the student section to celebrate even though there were still 5 seconds left.
No matter. The Tar Heels (2-0, 1-0) are 2-0 for the first time since 2014 after this one, which followed a comeback from 11 down in the fourth to beat South Carolina 24-20.
“For a team that’s struggled over the last couple of years to win fourth-quarter games, I’m so happy to see them do it twice, two weeks in a row,” Brown said. “It’s really special.”
Howell completed 16 of 24 passes for 274 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown throw to Dyami Brown as part of UNC’s 17-3 game-opening burst.
The Hurricanes dominated the second quarter to climb back in it, then appeared ready to pull this one out when Jarren Williams found Will Mallory for an 11-yard score and a 25-20 lead with 4:38 left.
“It’s a tough one to take for sure, but we’re all staying together,” Williams said. “We’re a team and we know we’ve got to work harder.”
Miami: The Hurricanes were coming off a loss to No. 11 Florida on Aug. 24, a game that saw them surrender 10 sacks while committing 14 penalties in their first game under Manny Diaz. They were better in both areas Saturday, committing seven penalties and surrendering four sacks. Yet after locking down on the Tar Heels and their run game to stop UNC’s momentum, they couldn’t come up with the stop to avoid their first 0-2 start since 1978.
“They are competing, they are playing with toughness, they are doing a lot of the things we’re asking them to do,” Diaz said. “There is not a guy in that locker room right now, coaches included, that can’t do more and can’t play or coach better than they are right now.”
UNC: The South Carolina win provided a jolt of confidence. And it’s sure to grow now under Brown, a Hall of Famer returning to the sideline after spending the past five seasons in broadcasting.
“I came back, (wife) Sally came back, just to be positive and try to help the kids,” Brown said. “They’re responding really well to that, and it makes it fun for me. … This is two nobody expected us to win. And now we’ll start having a little bit more conversation about (how) we’ve got a chance to be decent.”
This is the first time the Tar Heels have won their first two games by four or fewer points since 1976.
Miami’s DeeJay Dallas ran for a game-high 107 yards, while Williams threw for 309 yards and two scores. On the other side, Javonte Williams led the Tar Heels on the ground with 76 yards rushing and a first-quarter TD.
Miami: The Hurricanes host Bethune-Cookman on Saturday in their home opener.
UNC: The Tar Heels visit Wake Forest on Friday in a nonconference game between league opponents.
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