EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — North Carolina entered the fourth quarter Saturday against Connecticut in serious trouble.
The 19th-ranked Tar Heels were down 10-0. They had rushed the ball 24 times and had minus-2 yards to show for it. Quarterback T.J. Yates had thrown two interceptions and been sacked six times, and the team was on the verge of wasting a fine defensive performance.
All that changed in the final 15 minutes, however, as the Tar Heels scored a football version of baseball's "hitting for the cycle." With a field goal, touchdown, extra point and bizarre safety, the Tar Heels managed the game's last 12 points and eked out a 12-10 win over UConn at Rentschler Field.
"We feel very fortunate to be 2-0," North Carolina coach Butch Davis said afterward. When asked facetiously about his blood pressure, Davis said games like Saturday's are "why you don't see any 100-year-old football coaches."
The Tar Heels' final two points came when, with 1:32 to go, the Huskies (1-1) made a dangerous offensive call that backfired. Facing a third-and-22 from their own 8 while playing its second-string quarterback, UConn tried to throw the ball out of its own end zone.
North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn charged off the right side toward the quarterback, but he never got there. Connecticut left tackle Dan Ryan instead slung Quinn to the ground in the end zone.
"I knew I had beaten him around the corner," Quinn said, "and it felt like I got pulled down."
The official threw his flag. Any holding penalty in the end zone is called a safety because in theory the defender would have caused a safety had he not been held.
Many in the crowd of 38,087 were not aware of that quirky regulation, however, nor were some of the Tar Heels.
"I didn't even know that was a rule," Tar Heels cornerback Charles Brown said, "but I heard the coaches screaming, 'Safety! Safety!' "
The referee made the safety signal to a torrent of boos.
Suddenly, UNC was ahead, 12-10.
The Tar Heels had already gotten 10 fourth-quarter points on a 22-yard field goal from Casey Barth and a 2-yard scoring pass from T.J. Yates to Zack Pianalto -- who dislocated a bone in his right foot in the ensuing celebration.
Pianalto's TD had made it 10-10, following the extra point, with 2:36 to go in regulation. It appeared the game was headed for overtime until the safety that decided it only a minute later.
Connecticut had one last chance, however. The Huskies went for an onside kick following the safety and executed it perfectly, recovering at their own 31. However, the Tar Heels' stingy defense allowed only one first down after that. Connecticut lost the ball on downs at midfield.
The fourth-quarter comeback allowed the Tar Heels to get out of town with their 2-0 mark. It also preserved a measure of respect for a UNC offense that went its first nine possessions without a score but then drove 75-plus yards for a field goal and a touchdown on two huge fourth-quarter drives.
Davis praised Yates' tenacity.
"Just about any other quarterback would have started folding and throwing interceptions," the coach said.
Ryan Houston, the Tar Heels' power back, played most of that fourth quarter and fared much better than starter Shaun Draughn as UConn's defense finally wore down.
"We ran the same play five times in a row," said Houston, who gained 33 yards in seven carries compared with Draughn's 21 yards in 14.
Davis said it was the first time he could ever remember being involved in a game that was won on a safety.
"This," he said, "would probably be a first."
NO. 19 NORTH CAROLINA 12, CONNECTICUT 10
Conn--FG Teggart 47, :00.
Conn--Todman 4 run (Teggart kick), :55.
NC--FG Barth 22, 10:56. NC--Pianalto 2 pass from Yates (Barth kick), 2:36. NC--Safety, 1:32.
Time of Possession
RUSHING--North Carolina, Houston 7-33, Draughn 14-21, J.White 1-7, Little 3-4, Blue 2-2, Team 3-(minus 6), Yates 8-(minus 26). Connecticut, Todman 18-66, Dixon 7-21, K.Moore 2-17, Frazer 4-(minus 6), Team 1-(minus 12), Endres 3-(minus 14).
PASSING--North Carolina, Yates 23-32-2-233. Connecticut, Frazer 11-19-1-94, Endres 3-7-0-30.
RECEIVING--North Carolina, Little 8-45, Pianalto 7-87, Highsmith 4-59, Elzy 2-25, Draughn 2-17. Connecticut, Kanuch 4-56, Difton 4-25, I.Moore 2-17, Todman 2-9, Griffin 1-13, Dixon 1-4.
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