CHAPEL HILL — In the weeks leading to North Carolina’s Thursday night showdown with Miami on ESPN, cornerback Tre Boston was drilled about one play in the previous game against Virginia Tech.
Hokies receiver D.J. Coles got past Boston and caught an 83-yard strike that set up a touchdown and a 21-7 lead for VT, drowning any sort of optimism the Tar Heels had heading into the locker room.
Boston knew he blew the coverage, and said he would correct it.
“It happened and it was mostly because of communication issues,” Boston said. “But we got that settled that day, actually that night, and we’re good now.”
While the secondary still had its flaws Thursday night against Miami – giving up 322 yards passing and multiple third-and-long conversions – it produced turnovers that helped keep the Heels in the game for much of the night.
Boston, a senior, finished with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a huge momentum-swinging interception in the red zone with 7:35 remaining in the second quarter that set up a field goal to give the Heels a 17-13 lead before the half.
The Fort Myers, Fla., native also made two huge plays on Miami’s second drive, stopping Duke Johnson short of the goal line twice, with one resulting in a tackle for loss. Both plays wouldn’t have been possible if cornerback and fellow Florida-native Jabari Price hadn’t made a big stop.
Price, from Pompano Beach, ran down Johnson after he broke away for a 59-yard run that looked like it would end with a touchdown. The senior caught Johnson after he broke multiple tackles earlier in the play.
Despite the plays made by Boston, Price and the entire secondary – which ended up with four interceptions, two by freshman Dominique Green – the Heels dropped to 1-5 thanks to a crushing methodical drive by Miami at the end to win 27-23.
Most of the damage on the final drive came from the running game and a rushing touchdown by backup running back Dallas Crawford – one of Boston’s childhood friends. Despite the loss, coach Larry Fedora saw growth in his secondary.
“The defense created four turnovers, which should be enough to win a football game,” Fedora said. “(Miami) makes their living by throwing the ball down the field and they have some receivers that can really go. They converted on a few third-and-longs … but we didn’t let them capitalize off of (big plays).”
As for the realization that Boston, Price and nine other seniors are now dealt with their fifth loss of the season after just six games, Fedora knew it was important to the players and especially the two Florida natives who played crucial roles.
“I know those guys are hurting because they’re from down in that area and they wanted to win it in the worst way,” he said. “But believe me, they’re all hurting right now. They’re all hurting.”