Oct. 11, 2008
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) – Cameron Sexton scored on a leaping 4-yard keeper to start the fourth quarter, Quan Sturdivant returned an interception for a touchdown and No. 22 North Carolina rallied to beat Notre Dame 29-24 on Saturday.
Ryan Houston scored on a short run for the Tar Heels (5-1), who are off to their best start since winning the first eight games of the 1997 season. Hakeem Nicks added nine catches for 141 yards and freshman walk-on Casey Barth kicked three field goals, helping North Carolina rally from an 11-point first-half deficit and beat the Fighting Irish for just the second time in 18 meetings.
This one came down to a wild finish, with the Irish (4-2) reaching North Carolina’s 7-yard line in the final seconds before officials ruled after a review that receiver Michael Floyd fumbled the ball after a catch. Trimane Goddard recovered the ball, giving it back to North Carolina for a joyous kneel-down with 3 seconds left.
Jimmy Clausen threw for 383 yards and two touchdowns for Notre Dame, which moved the ball all day against and led 17-9 at the break before committing four second-half turnovers. Notre Dame finished with 472 yards and converted 10 of 16 third downs.
Sexton, the one-time third stringer filling in for injured starter T.J. Yates, threw for 201 yards. But he made his biggest play with his feet, scrambling right on third down and jumping through a hit from Kyle McCarthy at the goal line for the 29-24 lead with 14:55 to play.
The Tar Heels found a way to keep moving forward despite going most of the way without big-play receiver and returner Brandon Tate, who sprained his right knee in the first quarter. Nicks picked up the slack with another big day against the Fighting Irish after tallying six catches for 171 yards and a score against them two years ago. Converted safety Shaun Draughn added his second straight solid game, finishing with 91 yards on 17 carries.
Clausen looked sharp most of the day behind a line that gave him plenty of time to throw. But the sophomore made three costly second-half mistakes that helped the Tar Heels seize momentum after trailing the entire first half.
It started when Sturdivant jumped in front of Kyle Rudolph for the pick on Clausen’s first pass and returned it 32 yards for the touchdown to cut it to 17-16. Later in the period, Aleric Mullins stripped Clausen of the ball and recovered the fumble to set up the Tar Heels’ go-ahead drive.
Then, after the Irish had driven to North Carolina’s 36-yard line with about 5 minutes left, Deunta Williams picked off Clausen on the right side, giving the ball back to the Tar Heels for a drive that took 3 minutes off the clock.
Once Notre Dame got the ball back at its own 18 with 1:47 to play, Clausen guided one more drive, pushing to North Carolina’s 33-yard line with 11 seconds left before finding Floyd over the middle on what turned out to be the Irish’s final play.