Miami is still undefeated, and North Carolina still losing games.
But the Tar Heels didn’t go down easily Saturday. They lost to the No. 8 Hurricanes at Kenan Stadium, but made Miami sweat out a 24-19 victory that had some tense moments late.
Quarterback Nathan Elliott, coming off the bench when Chazz Surratt was injured, was generally effective for the Tar Heels in his first meaningful playing time this season, and UNC had a chance to pull off the upset.
Elliott was 16-of-39 passing for 173 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 79 on 21 carries. His 9-yard scoring pass to freshman wide receiver Beau Corrales, who had two TD catches, with 3:03 left pulled the Tar Heels within five points.
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UNC’s onside kick was recovered by Miami senior Braxton Berrios, the former Leesville Road star, but Miami’s Travis Homer fumbled and the Tar Heels recovered at the UNC 48. A scrambling Elliott was hit out of bounds by Miami’s Zach McCloud at the UNC bench, but the Hurricanes then forced a fumble by Jordon Brown -- UNC’s fourth turnover -- to seal it.
“I’m proud of our team,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “There’s no doubt in my mind our guys are playing hard. There’s no quit in them. They’re a tight group. They don’t point fingers.
“They love each other and play hard together but we still made too many mistakes to overcome and win a football game, especially against a really good football team.”
The Hurricanes, 7-0 overall and 5-0 in the ACC, hit the Tar Heels with a couple of big punches – a 51-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Malik Rosier with less than two minutes left in the first half, then a 78-yarder on the first play of the second half.
On the first, Rosier, who completed 16 of 38 throws for a career-high 356 yards and three scores, teamed up with wideout Christopher Herndon IV as the Hurricanes eased in front 7-6.
After taking the second-half kickoff, the Hurricanes struck again. Freshman Jeff Thomas ran a post pattern and was open for the 78-yard score, Miami’s longest pass play of the season and the sixth play of more than 70 yards allowed by the UNC defense this season.
Miami then blocked a punt two possessions later, recovering at the UNC 13 and tacking on a field goal. The Hurricanes had a 17-6 lead, seemingly opening up a comfortable cushion.
But this was a day when the Tar Heels played some inspired football. A week after a 59-7 humiliation by Virginia Tech, UNC made some big plays and ran some trick plays, successfully, to give itself a chance.
Elliott, a sophomore from Celina, Texas, played in the Virginia Tech debacle and misfired on his three passes. But after Surratt was leveled by a late hit in the first quarter, and with backup QB Brandon Harris also sidelined, it was Elliott’s turn.
“I don’t know what it was, but I had a feeling like, man, I’m going to play quite a bit in this game,” Elliott said. “I prepared like I was going to play.”
The Hurricanes pressured Elliott more in the second half, picking off three passes, but Elliott, showing his mobility, also made some plays.
“I thought he was really gritty and played really tough,” Fedora said.
Wideout Anthony Ratliff-Williams proved to be an accurate thrower for UNC. He was 2-for-3, hitting Corrales for an 18-yard TD in the third quarter and completing a 33-yarder to Elliott to set up Freeman Jones’ first field goal.
In the end, the Tar Heels had more total yards (428) and first downs (27) than the “Canes but could not avoid a sixth straight loss and dropped to 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the ACC. UNC had a fourth-quarter interception by Myles Wolfolk wiped out by a pass-interference call against the Tar Heels’ Patrick Rene, and Miami followed with a TD on Rosier’s 5-yard pass to Berrios that proved to be the winner.
The victory provided some redemption for Miami. The Hurricanes were blitzed 59-21 by the Tar Heels in 2015 in their last game at Kenan Stadium, then beaten 20-13 by UNC in Miami last season in Mark Richt’s first year as the Hurricanes coach.