Fresh­man QB leads UNC to vic­tory in Mil­i­tary Bowl

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEEKEND - By Ralph D. Russo

AN­NAPO­LIS, Md. — Hav­ing guided North Carolina to a win­ning sea­son and a lop­sided bowl vic­tory in his first year back at the school, Mack Brown has raised ex­pec­ta­tions — for him­self and the fans — mov­ing for­ward.

The vet­eran coach wouldn’t have it any other way.

Fresh­man Sam How­ell threw for 294 yards and three touch­downs in ad­di­tion to catch­ing a TD pass as the Tar Heels blew out Tem­ple 55-13 in the Mil­i­tary Bowl on Friday to cap a sat­is­fy­ing re­turn sea­son for their 68-year-old coach.

How­ell com­pleted 25 of 34 passes and ran for 53 yards on three car­ries to help the Tar Heels (7-6) se­cure their first bowl vic­tory since 2013. North Carolina was 4-6 be­fore win­ning its last two reg­u­lar-sea­son games to qual­ify for a bowl bid.

North Carolina went 3-9 in 2017 and 2-9 last year be­fore hir­ing Brown, who coached the Tar Heels from 1988-97 prior to head­ing to Texas for a 16-year stay. Com­ing off a five-year ab­sence from coach­ing, Brown — with help from How­ell — quickly turned the pro­gram around.

“The last three weeks we’ve been a re­ally good foot­ball team,” Brown said. “It’s fun. Now th­ese guys com­ing back have some­thing to build on. Seven [wins] is not enough any­more. You want to go to a bowl ev­ery year and get a streak of wins.”

Tem­ple (8-5) has played in a bowl game in each of the past five years — and lost four of them. This was the Owls’ first trip un­der coach Rod Carey, who came to Tem­ple af­ter a run of six-plus sea­sons at North­ern Illi­nois in which he was 0-6 in the post­sea­son.

“It’s hard to swal­low be­cause I don’t know if there is that big a gap be­tween th­ese two teams, but there was today,“’ Carey said.

It might take a while be­fore the Owls view this sea­son as a suc­cess.

”’The fur­ther away we get from this mo­ment, we will feel a lot bet­ter about it,“’ Carey said.

For Brown, there was no bet­ter feel­ing than frol­ick­ing with the play­ers in the ju­bi­lant locker room at Navy-Marine Corp Memo­rial Sta­dium.

“To be where we are now com­pared to where we were a year ago when I walked into that meet­ing and looked into those faces that were sad and dis­ap­pointed be­cause they just lost their coach and had a tough year,” Brown said, “that dress­ing room was a lot of fun down­stairs.”

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Clem­son coach Dabo Swin­ney grew up an Alabama fan when crown­ing a cham­pion in col­lege foot­ball was all about polls and bowls, and the best teams of­ten never got a chance to set­tle it on the field.

“It’d be pretty cool to go back in time and take some of those teams, get the top four, and kind of do the playoff,” Swin­ney said Friday dur­ing the fi­nal Fi­esta Bowl news con­fer­ence with Ohio State coach Ryan Day. “And that’s what we have. We have a re­ally cool setup in col­lege foot­ball.”

With the Col­lege Foot­ball Playoff, na­tional cham­pi­ons are now undis­puted. More of­ten than not the ti­tle game has pro­duced in­trigue and thrills. What the playoff has lacked in its first five years is drama on semi­fi­nal day. Only two of the 10 semi­fi­nals have been one-score games. Av­er­age mar­gin: 21 points.

The Fi­esta Bowl has a chance to buck the trend. No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) faces Swin­ney’s third-seeded de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion Tigers (13-0) on Satur­day night in a rare CFP semi­fi­nal that feels a like it could be a cham­pi­onship game.

Clem­son has won 28 straight games, the na­tion’s long­est cur­rent streak. The Tigers are No. 1 in the na­tion in points al­lowed and No. 4 in points scored. Ohio State has won 19 straight games, sec­ond only to Clem­son. The Buck­eyes are No. 1 in the na­tion in scor­ing and No. 3 in points al­lowed. The win­ner ad­vances to the na­tional ti­tle game on Jan. 13 in New Or­leans to face ei­ther No. 1 LSU or No. 4 Ok­la­homa.

“When you look at the guys on both sides of the ball on both teams, you’ve got a lot of NFL play­ers who will be play­ing for a long time,” Day said. “It will be fun to see those guys play­ing against each other and com­pet­ing. But you talk about a col­lec­tion of power, speed, strength, you kind of look on both sides. It’s there.

“Clem­son, they’re strong, they’re pow­er­ful, they’re tough. They’re fast. They have speed. We have speed. They

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