CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott could feel the momentum, both in a game-changing second quarter Saturday and a possibly redemptive November for the Tar Heels.
Elliott, a sophomore making his second start, threw four first-half touchdown passes as UNC cruised past Western Carolina 65-10. The victory gives the Tar Heels (3-8) their first win streak of what has been a disappointing season, one that would look far better if UNC could continue the winning next weekend at rival N.C. State.
Elliott credits the senior class, which played its last game in Kenan Stadium, with keeping the Tar Heels on task despite falling to 1-8 on Oct. 28 with a 24-19 loss to unbeaten Miami.
“They have kept this team together this year when we were falling apart,” he said. “I cannot thank them enough, and I am glad we were able to send them out the right way.”
North Carolina scored 21 points in a span of 2 minutes, 46 seconds in the second quarter to take control against the outmanned Catamounts.
After punting on its first possession, UNC scored six touchdowns the next six times it touched the ball, including a 28-yard fumble return by Jonathan Smith for a 28-7 lead.
Josh Cabrera caught two touchdown passes in the second quarter to stake the Tar Heels to a 42-7 halftime lead. Elliott, who had a first-half streak of 10 consecutive completions, finished 18 of 28 passing for 240 yards and no turnovers.
“You just keep building off it, you could feel the momentum,” Elliott said. “We were going out there just expecting to score.”
Michael Carter had 16 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown for the Tar Heels, who outgained the Catamounts 231-32 in the second quarter.
Western Carolina (7-5), a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, led 7-0 on Connell Young’s 1-yard reception but found little success after that in dropping to 0-54 all-time against Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Western Carolina: The Catamounts had North Carolina grasping at air early behind the nifty moves of quarterback Tyrie Adams. But Western Carolina couldn’t slow the UNC offense and fell to 0-29 all-time against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents. Detrez Newsome led the Catamounts with 107 yards on 26 carries, putting him over the 1,000-yard mark for the third consecutive season.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels, who outgained WCU 611-304, were uplifted by the return of senior wide receiver Austin Proehl. Playing for the first time since Sept. 23 against Duke, Proehl had three catches for 52 yards.
“He got healthy, and the doctors released him,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “He’s been wanting to play for a while, and each time they were checking him out, they weren’t going to release him. So finally on Tuesday we got the word they were going to release him. He wanted to get back out there with his teammates.”
The Tar Heels led 21-7 but had trouble early containing Adams, who rushed eight times for 49 yards in the first half. One way to stop a good runner? Make him fumble. Malik Carney dislodged the ball and Smith picked it up for a score early in the second quarter.
NO FCS STRUGGLES
North Carolina under Fedora has not allowed lower-division teams much of a chance. The Tar Heels improved to 8-0 in his tenure against FCS teams or those making the transition to FBS, as Old Dominion was doing in 2013. The average score in those games, all at home, is 57-15. UNC has surpassed 50 points in those games six times. North Carolina’s last loss to an FCS team was against Furman in 1999.
Western Carolina: The Catamounts’ season is complete at 7-5. They finished 5-3 in the Southern Conference.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels close out coach Larry Fedora’s sixth season with a game at 25th-ranked N.C. State on Nov. 25. UNC is 3-2 against the Wolfpack in Fedora’s tenure.
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