WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — A.J. Blue knows no one can fully replace Gio Bernard in North Carolina’s offense. Still, Blue and Romar Morris did enough to keep the chains moving for the Tar Heels in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener.
Blue started for Bernard and ran for a career-best 106 yards with a touchdown on 19 carries in the 28-27 loss at Wake Forest on Saturday. Morris added 70 yards and another score on 14 carries, part of a stepped-up ground game in the second half that nearly gave new coach Larry Fedora his first ACC win.
“Both of them ran the ball well,” Fedora said. “They did a nice job in protection. I didn’t see many mistakes from them. I thought they ran extremely hard and they took care of the football.”
Bernard suffered a minor knee injury in the opening win against Elon. Bernard said Monday he’d be ready, but Fedora — who said he expected Bernard would play — said he held Bernard out because the sophomore didn’t feel right during pre-game warm-ups.
With Bernard dressed out but watching from the sidelines, the Tar Heels managed 42 yards on 19 carries in the first half. In the second half, UNC ran for 115 yards on 23 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown from Morris that tied the game at 21 in the third quarter.
“Gio’s a unique running back,” Blue said. “So it’s kind of hard to replace him. But (Fedora) talked about not having any drop-offs and not really having Gio out of the game being a big problem. I think me and Romar handled it well today.”
For Wake Forest, Tanner Price scored on a 1-yard sneak with 2:09 left. He threw for a career-high 327 yards for the Demon Deacons (2-0, 1-0), who struggled to generate much offense throughout the second half until the decisive drive. Starting from Wake Forest’s own 7-yard line, Price calmly directed an 11-play, 93-yard scoring drive that ended when he pushed his way through the right side of the line for the go-ahead score.
Bryn Renner had two final chances to bring back the Tar Heels (1-1, 0-1), but he threw a fourth-down interception with 1:25 left that let the Demon Deacons melt most of the clock. He got the ball back at his own 1 with 17 seconds and no timeouts, but reached only the 40 before his final desperation heave was knocked away.
While Price was steady in the clutch, his top target — receiver Michael Campanaro — had his way with the Tar Heels’ secondary all afternoon. Campanaro finished with career-best totals of 13 catches for 164 yards, including a 15-yarder on the drive to the go-ahead score.
The Tar Heels blew two chances to really take control after Morris’ tying touchdown. First, they settled for a short field goal from Casey Barth after Tim Scott’s interception gave the Tar Heels a first-and-goal from the 8. Then they settled for another kick from Barth after driving all the way to the Wake Forest 13-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
Then came two ineffective drives, setting up the Demon Deacons’ final push.
The game was delayed for 75 minutes due to lightning during a storm that rolled in about 30 minutes before kickoff, forcing both teams to return to the locker room and sending fans back to their cars.
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