UNC Football: Tar Heels cant hold on to lead in loss at Syracuse

SYRACUSE, NY - OCTOBER 20: Nathan Elliott #11 of the North Carolina Tar Heels passes the ball during the first quarter against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome on October 20, 2018 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
SYRACUSE, NY - OCTOBER 20: Nathan Elliott #11 of the North Carolina Tar Heels passes the ball during the first quarter against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome on October 20, 2018 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) /

The Tar Heels drop another close one to Syracuse in a game they probably should have won Saturday afternoon

This is becoming very frustrating.

A week after the North Carolina Tar Heels couldn’t hold a lead and complete the upset over Virginia Tech at home, they squander another chance against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent on the road. At this point, they are just finding different ways to lose the games.

Much like last week’s loss to the Hokies, UNC had the lead late in the fourth quarter but just couldn’t hold on. Syracuse took advantage of multiple opportunities including tying the game late to send it to overtime. From there, the Orange scored two touchdowns to win it 40-37 and had UNC their fifth loss of the season.

The Tar Heels opened up the game with an impressive opening drive that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass to Dazz Newsome from quarterback Nathan Elliott. UNC’s playcalling was aggressive, going for it on 4th-and-1 from the ‘Cuse 46-yard line and it paid off. The 11-play, 75-yard drive was just the second time this season UNC scored a touchdown on the opening drive.

With a 7-0 lead, UNC’s defense played very well and gave the offense a chance to extend the lead early. After a punt on the second possession, UNC’s defense forced another stop and gave the ball right back to the offense.

But a 11-play drive gained just 23 yards and it was capped off with a missed field goal.

Syracuse was able to drain a field goal on the next drive, cutting the lead down to 7-3. Once again, UNC would have a chance to extend the lead and drove down to the Syracuse 21-yard line before Elliott was stopped on 4th-and-1 turning it over on downs.

The Orange would eventually take the lead in the first half on a Chris Elmore 1-yard touchdown run with 1:56 left in the half. A quick three-and-out by UNC led to another field goal for the Orange as they took a 13-7 lead at halftime.

It certainly felt like UNC played the better overall game in the first half and should have at least been up at the break.

In the second half the Orange struck again very quickly. A 3-play, 94-yard drive was capped off by a 16-yard run from quarterback Eric Dungey to put Syracuse ahead 20-7. The Orange appeared to have control of the game at that point but UNC wouldn’t go down quietly.

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The Tar Heels would go on to score 10 unanswered points to take a 27-20 lead highlighted by a Newsome 75-yard punt return for a touchdown. At this point, UNC had a few different chances to take a two-score lead and essentially put it away in the fourth quarter. They would miss a field goal from 45 yards with 5:07 left, which would have pushed it to 30-20.

UNC’s defense rose to the challenge in the second half, giving the offense the ball back at key times.

With 2:17 left in the game, the Tar Heels faced a third down with a 27-20 lead and had the chance to ice it. Head coach Larry Fedora called a pass play out of the wild cat, which got tight end Carl Tucker wide open. Receiver Anthony Ratliff Williams threw a pass to Tucker who was wide open on the right side but the tight end dropped it and the clock stopped, forcing UNC to punt. If Tucker catches it, the Tar Heels have a first down and likely win the game.

Instead, Syracuse scored on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Tommy DeVito to Nykeim Johnson four plays later to tie it. Near the end of regulation, Patrice Rene picked off DeVito giving UNC the ball at the ‘Cuse 39. But poor playcalling and execution led to UNC gaining minus one yards on the four play drive, sending the game to overtime.

Syracuse would score a touchdown on the opening possession and UNC would follow suit. On the second possession, UNC had to settle for a field goal and the Orange ended the game with a touchdown pass.

It’s the latest frustrating loss for the Tar Heels who now would need to win out to gain bowl eligibility.

Elliott finished the game 34-of-52 for a career-high 321 yards and two touchdowns. Antonio Williams rushed for 116 yards on 15 carries in the loss.

Next up for the Tar Heels is a road game at Virginia next Saturday. The Cavaliers will enter with a two-game win streak after upsetting Miami last week and beating Duke on the road this week.

For more on that game and everything else regarding UNC football, please check back with Keeping It Heel.