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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Halftime: North Carolina 24, Illinois 16



                  Photo Credit: UNC Athletic Communications


In front of a raucous, sold-out Memorial Stadium in Champaign, IL, the Illinois Fighting Illini's first quarter looked like the 2007 team that featured Rashard Mendenhall and J Leman.

In the first night game of the Lovie Smith Era, Ke'Shawn Vaughn did his best Mendenhall impression on the third play of Illinois' first drive with a 65-yard touchdown as no North Carolina defender came close to making contact.

After an Illini three and out on their second drive, the Tar Heels adjusted and sped up the tempo on offense as Mitch Trubisky's one-yard TD run on a quarterback sneak helped even the score at 6:08 into the game. North Carolina's offensive tempo sped up on the possession to throw Illinois' defense off and worked to a tee as Trubisky's splendid 39-yard run that would make Steve Young proud, helped set up the score two plays later.

One of the best special teams players in America Ryan Switzer muffed the return and rec by at the ILL 30. 

Illinois took advantage of a muffed catch by UNC's Ryan Switzer on the punt return as a leaking Kendrick Foster scored on a 13-yard touchdown reception from Wes Lunt made it a 14-7 affair.

After a 58-yard kickoff return from T.J. Logan to the ILL 28, the Tar Heels found themselves in prime position to respond.

North Carolina mustered a field goal as Nick Weiler's 49-yarder went down the middle, but left little room for error as Illinois maintained a 14-10 advantage with 118 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Illinois' next drive ended as Lunt looked confused on the development of the play with defensive end Mikey Bart's fumble recovery in the red zone set up North Carolina with a golden chance. 

With its second opportunity in as many possessions to score on a short field, Trubisky scored his first career rushing touchdown on a six-yard keeper to put UNC ahead 17-14 as the first quarter came to a close.

The back end of North Carolina's 17-point run came as a well-oiled pass from Trubisky to Logan as he escaped an Illinois defender for a 24-yard touchdown. 

With the roles reversed and forced to play catch-up down double digits, Illinois punter David Reisner responded with a coffin corner punt, which forced UNC to start at its own two-yard line.

UNC did itself no favor with a false start on the first play as Illinois' defense went all in on the next snap as Trubisky handed the ball to Elijah Hood, but stuffed by Illinois defensive defensive end Dawuane Smoot for a safety.

Down a touchdown and a two-point conversion, the energy returned in earnest and with the lights beaming on the field in full darkness outside, Illinois' offense failed to take advantage as UNC's Andre Smith dropped a potential pick six with no player within 10 yards.

The Tar Heels passed up on a 19-yard FG opportunity on the last play of the first half as Trubisky's slant pass on 3rd and Goal to Mack Hollins went incomplete.


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