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UNC walk-on quarterback Manny Miles throws first career touchdown on a Hail Mary

UNC walk-on quarterback Manny Miles talks about his Hail Mary touchdown pass

UNC walk-on quarterback Manny Miles talks about his Hail Mary TD pass on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. Miles was put into the game with five seconds left in the first half. The ball landed into the hands of UNC tight end Jake Bargas in the endzone.
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UNC walk-on quarterback Manny Miles talks about his Hail Mary TD pass on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. Miles was put into the game with five seconds left in the first half. The ball landed into the hands of UNC tight end Jake Bargas in the endzone.

Manny Miles’ two sisters stood behind a crowd of media members and took pictures with their phones as Miles was being interviewed. His parents — Kathy and Les Miles (Kansas head coach) — watched too, and beamed with pride.

Prior to Saturday’s 49-26 win against Western Carolina, Miles had thrown and completed only one pass in four seasons at North Carolina. The pass he threw in 2017 was for five yards.

But on Saturday, after UNC (2-8, 1-6 ACC) had advanced to the WCU 38-yard line, UNC coach Larry Fedora put Miles in to make the Hail Mary throw with five seconds left before halftime.

“We just felt like we knew Manny could get it there for sure, and we were going to have an opportunity,” Fedora said.

Miles first dropped back, stepped up and let it fly. The ball reached the endzone and was deflected in the air by a group of WCU defensive backs. When the ball finally came down, it fell into the hands of UNC tight end Jake Bargas for the touchdown.

It was Miles’ first touchdown pass of his college career.

“When you’re a kid you dream about playing college football, and you dream about scoring touchdowns and throwing it, running it,” Miles said. “For it all to happen at the end, and for your first throw to be a touchdown like that, it’s pretty awesome.”

UNC walk-on quarterback Manny Miles talks about his Hail Mary TD pass on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. Miles was put into the game with five seconds left in the first half. The ball landed into the hands of UNC tight end Jake Bargas in the endzone.

His family watched with excitement.

“He makes a great throw, which is timely,” his father, Les Miles, said. “And then the thing that touched me was his teammates. The teammates jumped him and went after him, and I thought that was...maybe the most important piece, considering the score.”

In high school, Miles helped lead University Laboratory School to a Division II Louisiana state title during his senior year. He was also a standout baseball player.

Miles’ journey to getting that touchdown was unconventional. He joined UNC’s program as a walk-on prior to the 2015 season. Miles served as the holder for place kicks during the 2017 season.

In 2018, as a senior, he entered the season as the fifth-string quarterback. But sophomore quarterback Chazz Surratt, and freshman quarterback Jace Ruder had both gotten hurt. And freshman quarterback Cade Fortin, who injured his knee on Oct. 13, but returned last week for one play, did not play on Saturday, presumably to preserve his red shirt.

So that meant Miles was the second-string quarterback this week. Miles, who played the entire fourth quarter, finished 2-4 for 50 yards and the touchdown.

“I’m happy for him,” junior quarterback Nathan Elliott said. “He works so hard every day, he hasn’t really had as many opportunities, but he got his opportunity today on the Hail Mary and made the most of it.”

Saturday’s game was not the first time Miles had reached the endzone. He rushed for a two-point conversion against Old Dominion last season. But his throw on Saturday was the first time he had thrown a touchdown.

Fedora said Miles believes in himself and has a lot of confidence.

“There’s not a thing in the world that Manny can’t do. He’ll tell you that,” Fedora said. “It doesn’t matter what it is. If I told him I needed him to return a kickoff, he would (say) ‘oh yeah, no problem.’ He can do it all.”

“He’s got a great personality and he is very, very well liked on this football team. Everybody loves the guy and he’s a big part of this team.”

Miles said he’d love the opportunity to do it again next week against N.C. State (7-3, 4-3). He believes he can make the throws necessary to be successful.

“It doesn’t matter who believes in you — outside of yourself — if you believe you can do it, then anything is possible,” Miles said. “And I believe in myself more than anybody else.”

Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander
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