CHAPEL HILL North Carolina needed a record-setting performance to beat McNeese State, 35-27, on Saturday..
Brandon Tate provided it.
On a night when UNC's offense struggled to put together any sort of consistent attack at rain-soaked Kenan Stadium, the senior wide receiver provided most of his team's surge – scoring two touchdowns, setting up another and speeding his way to a school-record 397 all purpose yards.
That surpassed former tailback Derrick Fenner's mark of 339 yards, set against Virginia in 1986. And it ranks second in the ACC record book.
Carolina is now 2-0 in season openers under coach Butch Davis, the first time the Tar Heels have won back-to-back first-games since 1996 and 1997.
But for a while, that was in doubt.
After a 1 hour, 48 minute weather delay – UNC's first since 2005 – a re-energized McNeese State took the field and scored 20 unanswered points to take a 20-14 lead in the third quarter. Its only real miscue: a blocked extra point.
Carolina's offense, which struggled both on the ground and in the air when Tate wasn't involved, looked like it was on its way to yet another punt with 4 minutes, 35 seconds left in the third quarter. That's when Yates found Tate for a 57-yard touchdown reception to give UNC a 21-20 lead.
And momentum. And hope.
Tate set the school record early in the fourth, on a 20-yard reverse that helped set up a Casey Barth 37-yard field goal attempt. Barth, who shared kicking duties with redshirt freshman Jay Wooten, missed wide left.
But with 9:02 left, backup tailback Shaun Draughn gave UNC a much-needed 28-20 cushion with a 13-yard touchdown run. A converted safety, it marked Draughn's first collegiate touchdown.
Then, with 4:20 left, receiver Hakeem Nicks out-raced two defenders for a 71-yard reception that set up a 5-yard touchdown run by sophomore tailback Greg Little. That made it 35-20.
Still, the biggest accolades belonged to Tate, who was virtually unstoppable from the first kickoff of the game – which he returned 56 yards.
After three scoreless possessions and 24 total yards of offense, UNC took an early lead with 3:09 left in the first quarter when Tate took a punt at the 18 yard line, dodged a tackle at about the 31 then raced down the right sideline for an 82-yard touchdown return. It marked his third career punt return for a touchdown; he has also returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his career.
Play was delayed with 12:08 left in the first half, after Yates (15-26, two touchdowns, 1 interception) found Brooks Foster for a 4-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-0. Tate set up that score, too, with a 54-yard rumble out of the backfield that tied the longest run of his career.
Hakeem Nicks' 9-yard reception late in the first half marked his 14th straight game with a catch.