North Carolina

North Carolina loses to California in season opener 35-30

North Carolina’s Jordon Brown (2) gets upended by Cal’s Quentin Tartabull (28) and Alex Funches (36) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game played between the California Golden Bears and the UNC Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC, on Sept. 2, 2017.
North Carolina’s Jordon Brown (2) gets upended by Cal’s Quentin Tartabull (28) and Alex Funches (36) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game played between the California Golden Bears and the UNC Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC, on Sept. 2, 2017. cseward@newsobserver.com

North Carolina had questions at quarterback leading up into its game against California, questions that will likely continue after losing to the Golden Bears 35-30 at home in the first game of the 2017 season.

UNC, which finished last season 8-5, was 14 point favorites at home over Cal, which came into the season with a new coach, Justin Wilcox.

But the Tar Heels were the ones who struggled offensively and had one too many breakdowns on defense. Those breakdowns resulted in 54-yard and 67-yard touchdown passes from Cal quarterback Ross Bowers.

On offense, UNC coach Larry Fedora used a committee of quarterbacks on Saturday. Both Brandon Harris and Chazz Surratt played. But after Harris threw his second interception late in the third quarter, Surratt played the rest of the way.

Surratt performed well at times, but did not make many big plays. He relied mainly on his feet to pick up first downs when he was in trouble.

Harris threw for 60 yards and completed 7 of 16 passes. Surratt threw for 161 yards, and completed 18 of 28 passes and a touchdown. He also ran for 64 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown.

Cal struck first on an 7-play, 85-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter. It took just under two minutes to complete and ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone from quarterback Ross Bowers to wide receiver Jordan Veasy.

UNC responded with a score on its next drive. After a few big runs by true freshman Michael Carter to get the ball to the 2-yard line, Carter scored from 2 yards out, to tie the game 7-7.

The Tar Heels scored two more times, a field goal and a 9-yard touchdown by Carter again to go up 17-7, before Cal answered back.

Late in the second half, UNC forced Cal to a third-and-long deep in its own territory with less than two minutes left in the first half. Cal quarterback Ross Bowers threw an incomplete pass, but UNC defensive lineman Jalen Dalton hit him in the head and well after the throw. Dalton was ejected for targeting, and Cal advanced the ball 15 yards to its 33.

After that, Bowers threw a 67-yard touchdown pass to Vic Wharton III to bring Cal within three points with 1:08 left in the first half 17-14.

Both teams came out slow in the second half. California scored on a 54-yard touchdown pass by Bowers with 4:23 seconds left through the third quarter.

Harris threw another interception in UNC territory on the next possession. But UNC’s Smith intercepted it back and nearly returned it for a score before being tackled at the 4-yard line.

Surratt threw his first career touchdown pass from 4 yards out to put UNC up 24-21.

But Cal answered right away, putting together a long touchdown drive to regain the lead 28-21.

Cal kept the lead for good.

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexander

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