Ex-Hillside star Khris Francis, freshmen star for Tar Heels
While North Carolina’s 45-14 win over Virginia Saturday at Kenan Stadium keeps the Tar Heels in line for a bowl bid this season, it also bodes well for the future.
All six UNC touchdowns were scored by underclassmen, including three by true freshmen — an 85-yard punt return by receiver Ryan Switzer, a 62-yard interception return by safety Dominique Green and a 15-yard reception by running back Khris Francis, a star last season at Hillside High School and former Herald-Sun All-Area Player of the Year.
Sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams combined four four touchdowns throwing, running and receiving in his second career start, sophomore linebacker Jeff Schoettmer led the team with eight tackles, true freshman Mikey Bart started at bandit and three freshmen played on the offensive line.
Underclassmen also represented the top five Tar Heels in receiving yards and the top four in rushing yards.
“I really do think this freshman class is going to be pretty special,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “Not only are they playing for us, they’re making plays for us.
“I think what you’re finding out now is they’ve adapted to college football. So now you see their athleticism come out. You see them just starting to play ball, not worry about everything, not worry about making mistakes. They’re just playing ball, and they’re having some fun out there.”
Switzer fielded the first Virginia punt at the 1, had no gain on his next return, made two fair catches and then started his next return by dropping the punt. But he picked up the ball and recorded UNC’s first return for a touchdown since Giovani Bernard’s game-winner against N.C. State last season.
“I’m going to be in trouble for that tomorrow,” Switzer said. “Thankfully, it bounced right up. It kind of helped me because I got a second to hesitate, and the defense kind of outran it.”
Green said his touchdown, which came after Schoettmer flushed Virginia quarterback David Watford out of the pocket, was his first score since his days in Pop Warner.
Then came Francis, who scored his first career college TD on a fourth-quarter screen pass after having a TD negated because of a penalty on the same exact play last week against N.C. State.
“In the moment I was just praying it didn’t get called back,” Francis said. “I can’t even describe the feeling of when it actually occurred. All my teammates were there, tapping me on the helmet. It was a great feeling.”
Francis also ran six times for 35 yards, while freshman T.J. Logan had 42 yards on seven carries and caught a 30-yard screen pass and sophomore Romar Morris had a 41-yard run.
While not replicating his ACC record-tying 16-catch performance last season against Virginia, sophomore Quinshad Davis had a game-high 65 yards and a score on five catches and threw his second touchdown pass of the season.
And leading it all was Williams, who was under center — surrounded by underclassmen — for UNC’s highest-scoring game of the year.
“It shows the talent we have in our class and where this program can go in the next couple years,” Switzer said.