Orange rallied from a 10-point deficit with five minutes left to defeat Chapel Hill 38-37 Friday night in another down-to-the-wire thriller between the two old rivals.
The Panthers defeated the Tigers last season 6-0 on a last-second touchdown. This time, Chapel Hill led 34-14 at halftime, and Orange didn’t get the lead until the final 2 minutes, 8 seconds.
Two plays after recovering an onside kick at midfield, Orange running back Tay Jones got the ball on a reverse and took it 47 yards for a touchdown that pulled the Panthers to within 37-36. Jones then scored what proved to be the winning points on a two-point conversion – diving off-tackle into the endzone.
“I’m a senior and I wanted to do it for my team,” said Jones who finished with 146 rushing yards and a 98-yard kickoff return for a score.
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“They were counting on me so much, and I’m just at a loss for words right now.”
The win boosted Orange, ranked No. 5 in North Carolina by the Associated Press, to 8-0 overall, 4-0 in Big Eight Conference games. Chapel Hill dropped to 6-2, 2-2, with its sixth straight loss to Orange.
Trailing by 20 at halftime, the Panthers scored on their first two possessions of second half: a 6-yard run by Jones and a 3-yarder by quarterback Garrett Cloer to close to 34-27 with 2:50 left in the third.
The Tigers increased their lead to 10 with a 36-yard field goal early in the fourth, and a Chapel Hill interception gave it the ball back with 10 minutes left.
But the Panthers’ defense held and closed to seven on place-kicker Juan Torres’ 32-yard field goal with 2:08 left.
“We were really down at halftime, but the coaches told us to have heart and get it together,” he said. “I had heart and faith and believe I could do it.”
The Panthers’ Bryse Wilson recovered the onside kick to put Orange at the Chapel Hill 47, setting up Jones’ heroics on a reverse.
“The coaches told us we had quit and they were ashamed of us,” Jones said. “But we got it together and started to believe we could win it.”
Chapel Hill dominated the first half, taking its opening possession 72 yards, ending with a Ricki McDowell 13-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers compiled 281 first-half yards, mostly from quarterback Connor Stough’s 172 passing yards and McDowell’s 95-yard ground game on 19 carries – the most in a half this season so far.
Meanwhile, Chapel Hill’s defense held the high-flying Orange to a minus-6 rushing yards in the half.
McDowell gave Chapel Hill a 13-0 lead on the Tigers’ next possession, this one a 2-yard scamper with 2:21 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers got on the scoreboard just before the quarter ended with a quick six-play 80-yard drive that culminated in quarterback Cloer finding running back Eryk Brandon-Dean for a 41-yard strike.
But Chapel Hill came right back after Orange’s onside kick went backwards and ended at the Panthers 49. The Tigers needed less than 2 minutes to go up 20-7 after Stough found Albert Nyamayaro for 12 yards.
But before the Tigers could catch their breath, Jones returned the kickoff 98 yards to pull the Panthers to 20-14 with 9:43 left in the half.