No. 23 North Carolina erased a third quarter Flames lead by scoring 28 points during a four-minute span, allowing the Tar Heels to open the 2014 season with a 56-29 win over Liberty, Saturday evening, at Kenan Stadium.
Following a Jacob Hagen fumble return for a touchdown, Liberty led 22-21 midway through the third quarter. However, the homestanding Tar Heels scored 28 points during a span of 3:49 to turn the game in their favor.
The loss drops Liberty to 0-1 on the season for the fourth year in a row, with all four losses coming at the hands of FBS opponents. Today's game marked the first time Liberty had faced a ranked FBS team in program history.
North Carolina opens the year 1-0 for the sixth time in the last eight seasons with a win, with each of the half dozen wins coming over FCS foes.
The game saw the two teams combine for 10 turnovers, six by the Flames and four by the Tar Heels. Liberty finished the 2013 season ranked No. 3 in the country in turnover margin and committed a total of 11 turnovers the entire season.
Quarterback Josh Woodrum finished the game 16-of-33 for 189 passing yards with two interceptions. The passing tandem of Marquise Williams (19-of-29, 169 yards, 2 TDs) and Mitch Trubisky (10-of-16, 66 yards, 1 TD) combined to throw for 235 yards and three interceptions.
Liberty's run game was paced by Todd Macon with the redshirt freshman finishing his first game in a Liberty uniform with 13 carries for 67 yards and two touchdowns. D.J. Abnar followed with 18 carries for 60 yards and a score.
North Carolina's ground attack followed the Flames with Charles Brunson leading the way with nine carries for 54 yards and a score. Williams helped his own cause with six carries for 52 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Darrin Peterson was Liberty's leading receiver with the junior finishing the game with four receptions for 96 yards. Gabe Henderson also had four catches for 38 yards. North Carolina's receivers were led by Ryan Switzer who had eight receptions for 43 yards.
The Flames top defender was Dominique Davis who finished the game with a career-high nine tackles. Jacob Hagen had seven stops and a forced fumble. Liberty's three picks on the day came from Kenny Scott, Alpha Jalloh and Gary Sampson.
The Tar Heels were paced defensively by Tim Scott with eight tackles and Travis Hughes with seven stops. North Carolina wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, as the Tar Heels forced Liberty to punt following a three-and-out series on the game's first possession.
North Carolina then jumped out to a 7-0 lead with 11:25 left to play in the first when Williams hit Bug Howard in the end zone with a seven-yard scoring strike. The touchdown pass capped off an eight-play, 61-yard drive.
The two teams traded turnovers on consecutive plays, starting with a fumble by Darrin Peterson after a 39-yard reception. On the next play, Williams tried to go deep, but Kenny Scott was able to pick the ball off at midfield. Liberty took advantage of the positive field position to tie the game at 7-7 with 4:44 in the first quarter.
Woodrum completed all three of his passing attempts during the drive, including 19-yard reception to tight end Dexter Herman to get into the red zone. Two plays later, Macon scored his first career touchdown from one yard out to tie the game.
The lead was short lived for Liberty, as the Tar Heels quickly marched down the field to score 80 seconds later. North Carolina's six-play, 57-yard drive was finished off when Romar Morris scored from one yard out to give the Tar Heels a 14-7 edge at the 3:22 mark of the first.
The score remained the same until the final five minutes of the first half where the lead changed hands twice before the teams headed into the locker room.
The first lead change came on a safety when North Carolina mishandled a punt attempt and was forced to kick the ball out of the back of the end zone at the 5:09 mark of the second.
Woodrum completed a long pass attempt to Peterson of 31 yards on the next drive to get the Flames to the Tar Heels 30-yard line.
Liberty kept the ball on the ground for four of the next five plays, including a one-yard burst up the middle by Abnar to give the Flames a 15-14 lead. Liberty attempted a two-point play to give itself a three-point cushion; however, Peterson was unable to pull down the lofted Woodrum pass in the corner of the end zone.
The Flames thought they might take the one-point lead into the locker room at half; however, North Carolina moved the ball quickly down the field to score.
Williams completed a 13-yard pass to Howard and a 23-yard pass to Quinshad Davis to get into Liberty's red zone. Two plays later, Williams scored on a three-yard rush up the middle to cap off a seven-play, 66-yard drive that used only 64 seconds on the clock and allowed the home team to lead 21-15 at the intermission.
The two teams combined for 454 yards of total offense in the first half, with Liberty outgaining North Carolina, 240 to 214. Woodrum was 11-of-21 for 152 yards, while Williams was 13-of-19 for 108 yards.
The game's third turnover led to the first lead change of the second half. After a 53-yard punt by Trey Turner pinned North Carolina deep in its own territory, Trubisky completed a six-yard pass to Davis.
Nick Sigmon stopped the wide receiver short of a first down and stripped the ball during the play. The loss ball was scooped up Hagen and returned 27 yards for a score to give Liberty a 22-21 lead with 9:25 left in the third quarter.
Less than four minutes later, North Carolina regained the lead following a 33-yard completion from Williams to Mack Hollins at the 5:55 mark of the third quarter to give the home team a 27-22 edge.
On the game's next offensive possession, Woodrum tried to find tight end Kendall Couamin over the middle of the field, but Jeff Schoettmer picked off the pass. The middle linebacker returned the interception 19 yards to widen North Carolina's lead to 35-22, 13 seconds later.
Two additional turnovers on Liberty's next two drives allowed the Tar Heels to complete a 28-point push during the critical four-minute span of the third quarter.
The first came when Todd Macon fumbled on a run and Williams scored from 15 yards out six plays later. On the second play of the following Liberty drive, Peterson fumbled for the second time in the game followed four plays later by a four-yard pass from Trubisky to tight end Jack Tabb to give North Carolina a 49-22 lead at the 2:06 mark of the quarter.
The two teams each managed to score during the final 15 minutes of play. Liberty's score came at 10:16 on a one-yard run by Macon, while North Carolina scored with 1:16 left on a two-yard burst by Brunson.
Liberty will play its second road game in a row next weekend when the Flames travel across the Commonwealth of Virginia to face Norfolk State on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. and the game will be covered by the Liberty Flames Sports Network (TV).