Tar Heels maul Bearcats in Belk Bowl, 39-17

Dec. 28, 2013 @ 11:53 PM

Freshman T.J. Logan’s kick return touchdown removed any doubt about momentum in the first half. Fellow frosh Ryan Switzer’s sealed the game’s outcome in the third quarter, and a place in history.

North Carolina mauled Cincinnati 39-17 in the Belk Bowl Saturday afternoon. A Bank of America Stadium crowd announced at 45,211 was treated to a well-prepared defensive effort from the Tar Heels, back-lighting two explosive game-changers.

“We had a lot of guys alive,” Logan said of the Tar Heels’ sideline following his touchdown. “I looked at their sideline after that, and it wasn’t the same.”

The Tar Heels (7-6) grabbed a 9-0 lead on a sack for safety by senior Kareem Martin and junior Brandon Ellerbe late in the first quarter. Thirteen seconds later, Logan was in the end zone with a 78-yard return and a 16-0 cushion.

“After a safety, we have to scoot up on the return,” Logan said. “We tried to stay away from 44 on their team because he’s one of their best. But on that one, I just hit a seam.”

Logan made two moves in his first 10 steps before a cutback sent him streaking down the middle of the field.

The lead was 23-3 at intermission. When Cincinnati tried to hang a punt and pin North Carolina deep early in the third quarter, Switzer waited out the traffic, secured the catch, then darted directly between the hashes 86 yards to the end zone and a 29-3 cushion.

“I was relaxed,” Switzer said, adding he was making the audible to teammates the punt was short. “I ran on it as soon as I caught it. I don’t think they were expecting me to catch it. I think they thought I’d fair catch it.”

Instead he streaked into the NCAA record books with his fifth scoring punt return this season. He also set an ACC and team record, made it five in five games, and pushed his punt return yardage for the season to a school record 502.

“It should be six, with my VT one,” a beaming Switzer said on the field amid celebration, referring to one called back against Virginia Tech. “But I can’t do it by myself. Those 10 guys with me do a great job.

“I believed in myself, in the talent and ability that God has given me. I had to be patient a little early in the season.”

Cincinnati (9-4), which defeated Duke in the Belk Bowl last year, had limited success in the first half offensively. By the time the Bearcats generated a touchdown drive, the Tar Heels were ahead four scores and dinner plans were the only decision to be made by the die-hards still remaining.

“It wasn’t over,” Logan said of Switzer’s scoring return for a four-score lead. “We found out after the Pittsburgh game that it’s never over.”

But Cincinnati, with a trigger-happy offense capable of points, never flashed comeback ability. Down 19, the Bearcats recovered a fumbled kickoff inside the UNC 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter. The drive stalled with no points.

“We talked about bending but don’t break,” said senior cornerback Jabari Price. “And we were that all day.”

The Tar Heels generated pressure on Cincinnati senior quarterback Brendon Kay without extra rushers. North Carolina, completing the second of three years on NCAA probation, finished with five sacks and got the game’s only takeaway with Tre Boston’s late fourth-quarter interception.

“Even when we didn’t get sacks, we were back there getting hits on him,” Martin said of Kay.

Logan finished with 77 yards rushing on 15 carries before sitting out as a precaution with a knee injury. He had another 120 yards on kick returns. Sophomore Romar Morris added scoring runs of 2 and 1 yards.

Sophomore Marquise Williams threw for 171 yards, hitting 19 of 33 passes. Junior tight end Eric Ebron, who has declared for the NFL draft, led with seven catches and 78 yards. Jack Tabb, a junior tight end, caught a 3-yard scoring pass.

The Tar Heels spoke of fighting through the adversity of a 1-5 start to the season, including a gut-wrenching loss to Miami, and then fighting back. They also spoke volumes about 2014, which head coach Larry Fedora said “would be even better.”

“We’ve got a bright future ahead of us,” Switzer said.