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North Carolina 56, Mercer 7

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Sam Howell threw for three first-half scores to set a single-season record for the most TD throws by a true freshman in Bowl Subdivision history as UNC beat Mercer 56-7.

Howell completed 10 of 13 passes for 152 yards and scores of 66, 4 and 33 yards in a dominating opening half for the Tar Heels (5-6), who led 42-0 by halftime.

“The afternoon and night was exactly what we needed,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “We dominated the game. Our guys were ready to play. They took the game over early. The game was over at halftime, so we got to play basically everybody who was eligible on our team, which helps morale. And we didn’t get anybody hurt. So it was the perfect night for us.”

Howell now has 32 TD throws on the year to surpass Trevor Lawrence’s 30 for eventual national champion Clemson last year as the most by a true freshman in FBS history, according to Sportradar.

Howell’s TD total also broke the program’s single-season record for any player (30) set by eventual No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Mitch Trubisky in 2016. He didn’t play after halftime.

The Tar Heels had seen nine of their first 10 games decided by seven or fewer points, each coming down to the final 80 seconds of regulation or overtime. This time, they scored touchdowns on their first six drives, showing no trouble handling an overmatched Championship Subdivision opponent nor the cold and steady rain much of the way.

“We’ve been in so many close games this year with teams that we’re better than,” Howell said. “We’ve honestly played down to some teams’ levels this year and we just need to play to our level every single week.”

Tyray Devezin ran for 53 yards for the Bears (4-8), allowing him to crack the 1,000-yard mark for the season. But Mercer had 225 total yards and barely avoided matching its most lopsided loss since relaunching the football program in 2013 after a 72-year hiatus in their final game of the season.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t get the result that we wanted tonight or this season,” Mercer coach Bobby Lamb said. “But as I told the team, it’s about relationships you build. It’s about gaining that personal degree. ... We’ve got a great bunch of kids. They fought their tails off.”

Associated Press

November 23, 2019