Ex-Hillside star Francis leads UNC in spring game
The White team, composed entirely of backups, is usually the sacrificial lamb of the North Carolina spring game. The starters on the Blue team are expected to dominate on both sides of the ball and generate excitement for the fall.
Last season, the score was so lopsided that 14 points were added to the White team’s total at halftime just to keep it interesting.
Such a gift wasn’t needed this year, thanks in part to Hillside graduate Khris Francis. The early enrollee had a game-high 101 yards on 20 carries for the White team, which fell to the Blue team 34-10 in front of an announced crowd of 15,000 at Kenan Stadium.
Facing the first-team defense and playing behind the second-team offensive line, Francis set the tone with a 24-yard run on the game’s second play.
“I honestly did not expect that at all, but I’m happy with the productivity we were able to produce,” Francis said.
The running game was strong throughout — UNC’s four tailbacks combined for 265 yards on 57 carries as the Tar Heels look to replace Giovani Bernard, who ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons.
Senior A.J. Blue, who caught a 33-yard touchdown, and sophomore Romar Morris, who had 80 yards on 15 carries, split time in the backfield with the starters.
But it was Francis, at a time when most of his former classmates at Hillside were on a senior trip, who made the biggest impact. The 5-9, 195-pound back still needs to work on ball security, pass protection and being more physical, but the potential was obvious.
“You can tell that Khris is still thinking a lot, but you can see bursts and you can see signs of quickness,” offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. “He’s obviously going to be a good player, and as he gets more comfortable I think his tempo will increase, which gives him a chance to be a very good player in the future.”
Blue complimented Francis as the players rode up on the elevator to do post-game interviews.
“He has some splash plays throughout the spring where you realize he could actually come in and compete on this level, and then you had some times where you realized he was a freshman,” Blue said. “But today it was all downhill (running) for him. No big 40-yard, 50-yard plays, but those 10- and 15-yard plays really show that he was capable of coming in and playing.”
Head coach Larry Fedora talked to Francis after the freshman was stood up on one play. The next time Francis lowered his shoulders and ran straight ahead.
“It’s hard to get him to talk, but he’s listening all the time, and he takes coaching very well,” Fedora said. “You can say something and he can just take it to the field immediately and make it happen.”
After setting school records for points and yards in 2012, the both the first- and second-team offenses struggled to get going Saturday during a scoreless first quarter. Alex Dixon intercepted a fade route intended for Quinshad Davis in the end zone to keep the starting offense off the board, while Kareem Martin (six tackles for loss), linebacker Travis Hughes (14 tackles) and ram Brandon Ellerbe (two sacks) ended any hopes the backups had of taking the lead.
The starters finally opened up the game with a trick play to start the second quarter, when Davis hit fellow receiver Sean Tapley for a 52-yard pass. Two plays later, Morris scored on a 2-yard run to put the Blue team ahead 7-0.
That would be the first of three straight touchdown drives. Blue took a screen pass 33 yards for a touchdown, and Tapley was left open downfield for a 48-yard scoring strike from starting quarterback Bryn Renner.
Renner completed 16 of 27 passes for 216 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. A sack by Ethan Farmer ended Blue’s last drive of the first half, but Renner went out for the first series of the third quarter and led one last touchdown drive, capped by a 10-yard touchdown to Kendrick Singleton.
Early enrollee Mitch Trubisky started behind center for the White team. He led one scoring drive, completing two passes on fourth down and long — a 31-yarder to Terrance Knox and a 16-yarder to Jordan Fieulleteau — before Nick Weiler’s 24-yard field goal made it 14-3 in the second quarter.
Trubisky, who finished 10 for 18 for 149 yards and two interceptions, will compete for the No. 2 spot with veteran backup Marquise Williams, who isn’t enrolled at UNC this semester but is coming back in the summer.
“We’ve come a long way. We’ve got a long way to go,” Fedora said. “I thought the guys played hard today, and that was the main thing.”
NOTES — UNC unveiled its uniforms for the 2013 seasons — a traditional home uniform with blue tops and white pants, an all-white away uniform and an alternate uniform with black pants, black tops with blue numbers and black helmets. The team will wear all black for the Thursday night home game against Miami on Oct. 17, which the program is calling “Zero Dark Thursday.” … Quarterback Drew Davis, the son of former UNC coach Butch Davis, played the final possession. He threw a 37-yarder to Cam Campbell but was robbed of a touchdown on the last play of the game when Knox dropped a pass in the end zone. … East Chapel Hill graduate Thomas Moore will enter the fall as the starting kicker. Fedora called the junior walk-on “the most consistent kicker we’ve had this spring.”
Blue 34, White 10
Scoring by Quarters
White 0 3 0 7—10
Blue 0 21 6 7—34
Blue—Morris 2 run (Moore kick), 13:50
Blue—Blue 33 pass from Renner (Moore kick), 10:27
White—24 FG Weiler, 5:58
Blue—Tapley 48 pass from Renner (Moore kick), 4:20
Blue—Singleton 10 pass from Renner (Spelman, kick failed), 7:11
Blue—Washington 20 pass from Trubisky (Johnson kick), 12:05
White—Hollins 25 pass from Pressley (Weiler kick), 6:41
RUSHING—Blue, Morris 15-80, 1 TD; Blue 8-30; Renner 3-(-4); Davis 1-0. White, Francis 20-101, Trubisky 8-(-28), Brunson 14-39, Hollins 1-(-1), Coker 4-(-7), Pressley 1-6, Davis 4-(-2)
PASSING—Blue, Renner 16-27-1, 216, 3 TD; Trubisky 3-4-1, 82, TD; Davis 1-1-0, 52. White, Trubisky 7-14-1, 88; Coker 11-16-0, 67; Pressley 4-4-0, 47, TD; Davis 1-3-0, 37.
RECEIVING—Blue, Davis 3-34; Platt 3-61; Morris 2-25; Singleton 2-24, TD; Tabb 1-12; Albright 2-17; Stogner 2-16; Blue 1-33, TD: Tapley 3-108, TD; Washington 1-20, TD. White, Fieulleteau 8-59; Knox 6-72; Darty 3-19; Heavner 1-2, D. McNeill 1-3; Hollins 1-25, TD; Campbell 1-37, Washington 2-22.
BLUE—Jackson 2 tackles; Green 3, INT; Hughes 14, 2 sacks for 14 yards; Martin 7, 2 TFL for 8, 4 sacks for 24 yards; Price 5, 1 PBU; Staub 9; Boston 6; Ellerbe 5, 1 PBU, 2 sacks for 17; Otis 7, 1 TFL for 6; Broach 1; Mangum 1, 1 TFL for 1; Champagne 3, 1 TFL for 3; Alberts 3, 1 sack for 5; Gnonkonde 3; Scott 1
WHITE—Heffernan 4, Dixon 5, 1 TFL for 1, 1 INT for 4; Rashad 1, 1 PBU; Thomason 7; Furr 2; James 1; A. Moore 2, 1 PBU; J. Jackson 4, Battle 8, 1 PBU; Davis 2; K. Jackson 2, 1 INT for 13, 1 PBU; Bales 1; Mastromatteo 3; Brown 2; Williamson 1; Farmer 2, 1 sack for 9; Petrocelli 1, Heaven 1.