By Carey Phillips
North Carolina scored touchdowns on six of seven possessions in the first half Saturday and rolled to a 49-9 victory over Western Carolina at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
The Catamounts concluded the fall portion of their football schedule 0-3. They are slated to play eight Southern Conference games starting Feb. 20.
Sam Howell, who didn’t play in the second half, completed 20 of 23 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns for the Tar Heels. He is the great-nephew of the late Babe Howell, a Sylva-Webster High School coaching legend.
UNC’s Michael Carter scored three TDs in eight carries that totaled 73 yards. He also didn’t play after halftime.
Dazz Newsome was Carolina’s top receiver with six catches for 82 yards.
WCU starting quarterback Will Jones completed seven of 14 passes for 55 yards. Freshman QB Kason Lincke saw his first action and was three of three for 21 yards.
Donnavan Spencer netted 52 yards in 13 carries for the Cats. He caught four passes for 33 yards.
The Tar Heels drove 71yards in nine plays the first time they had the ball. Howell completed passes of 10 yards to Javonte Williams, 17 yards to Newsome and 13 yards to Garrett Walston. Carter started the march with an 11-yard run and ended it by scoring from 17 yards out. Grayson Atkins kicked the first of his six extra points for a 7-0 lead with 9:05 to play in the first quarter.
Western cut the gap to 7-3 at the 4:27 mark of the period on Paxton Robertson’s 40-yard field goal. It was set up by runs of 10 and 11 yards by Spencer and an 11-yard gain by Mikai Stanley.
UNC countered by going 58 yards in four plays. Howell kept the ball for 30 yards then threw a 22-yard TD pass to Antonie Green for a 14-3 lead with 3:22 to go in the opening stanza.
After Newsome’s 22-yard punt return to the Carolina 46, Howell ran for 11 yards and completed a 16-yard pass to Emery Simmons. Carter broke free up the middle from 22 yards out increasing the margin to 21-3 with 52 seconds on the clock.
The Cats had to punt but got the ball back when Rontavius Groves fumbled after catching a 17-yard pass from Howell and Curtis Roach recovered at his 29.
Carolina out together a 10-play, 88-yard drive following a punt. On consecutive plays, Howell completed passes of 17 yards to Simmons, 32 yards to Williams and 15 yards to Dyami Brown. Williams converted a fourth-and-goal from 3 yards out for a 28-3 lead with 5:39 left in the half.
Kevin Hester recovered Syheam McQueen’s fumble giving the ball back to the Heels at the Western 47. Newsome started the five-play drive with a 15-yard run. Howell completed passes of 17 yards to Walston and 10 yards to Newsome ahead of Carter’s 5-yard scoring run for a 35-3 lead at the 1:36 mark.
The Heels weren’t through as a shanked punt gave them the ball at midfield. Howell completed a 24-yard pass to Khafre Brown then hit Newsome on a 26-yard TD increasing the margin to 42-3 with 49 seconds on the clock.
The scoring pace slowed considerably with UNC starters on the bench in the second half.
The Cats appeared to have scored when Ronald Kent intercepted a pass by reserve quarterback Jacoby Criswell and returned it 58 yards to the end zone. A penalty for an illegal block partially nullified the return.
Western reached the 9 but turned the ball over on downs after an unsuccessful fake field goal.
WCU went for it on downs on its next possession but was again stopped.
D.J. Jones scored from 2 yards out with 18 seconds to play in the third period and Noah Ruggles kicked the PAT for a 49-3 lead. The drive took nine plays, including Criswell’s 11-yard pass to Kanari Morales and a 12-yard run by Jones.
The Cats concluded the scoring with 5:56 remaining in the game when Nigel Manns recovered a fumble by reserve quarterback Jace Ruder and returned it 42 yards. Richard McCollum’s extra point was blocked.
Trevor Childers was in on nine tackles for the Cats.
Kaimon Rucker led UNC’s defense with seven tackles.