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September 25, 2010

Defense leads Carolina to first win vs. Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. - The crowd at Rutgers Stadium was booing, but to Bruce Carter, it sounded a lot like the cries of "Bruuuuce" that he is used to hearing when he's in front of a friendly home crowd.

Carter heard it after he got in the face of Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage as the latter threw an interception to UNC safety Matt Merletti with less than three minutes to go.

And he heard it again a minute later after he and the rest of the Carolina defense forced a turnover on downs to finally seal the Tar Heels' first win of the year, a 17-13 victory against the Scarlet Knights.

"It's all good," Carter said. "Just as long as the crowd is fired up."

It was a big night for Carter, who had seven tackles, an interception and a blocked punt.

"That guy came up huge for us," said UNC quarterback T.J. Yates, whose third-quarter touchdown pass to Ryan Taylor proved to be the game-winning points. "He just did it all."

His interception was a leaping, contorting grab that he then turned around and returned 55 yards into Rutgers territory to set up Carolina's first score of the game, a 1-yard Johnny White touchdown run in the second quarter.

It was reminiscent of two years ago in this stadium, when he returned a pick 66 yards for a touchdown to help the Tar Heels win a nationally televised nighttime showdown.

"I don't know what it is about this place, but I love playing here," Carter said.

Carter wasn't done making big plays after the interception.

Early in the fourth quarter, the UNC sideline started buzzing with the idea that it would be a perfect time for Carter to block a punt, even though he hadn't done it since two seasons ago.

Right on cue, Carter burst through the line and blocked the punt, the seventh kick he has blocked in his career. That set up a Casey Barth field goal, which was big because it meant Rutgers would need a touchdown to win.

"There's no substitute for playmakers, guys with the god-given ability to make plays," UNC coach Butch Davis said. "Bruce has had it throughout his entire career. We used to have eight or nine of those guys, and now we just have a few, but the few we have showed up and made plays."

Carolina's defense was great in the second half allowing just 98 yards of total offense to the Scarlet Knights, who only managed 244 in the game.

When Rutgers went away from a wildcat offense and back to a classic dropback-passing offense late in the game, the Tar Heels put pressure on Savage, led by Quinton Coples' three sacks.

"We're missing that depth, but guys really went out there and fought," Carter said.

The lack of depth because of the 12 players still under NCAA review was certainly an issue - "We were gassed," Davis said of the defensive line - but the fact that a player like Merletti made one of the biggest plays of the game gave Carolina hope that it can weather missing those guys.

"They tried to pick on the secondary throughout the entire day," Davis said. "They realized a lot of these kids are inexperienced, they're very young, and they tried to isolate and pick on certain ones throughout the course of the ball game. It's so rewarding to see kids go out there and play their hearts out and make a play like that."

There were still a number of glaring mistakes by the UNC offense that could have easily turned into a disaster if Rutgers had taken advantage.

There were a pair of fumbles in the first half, one of which led to a Rutgers touchdown and another that prevented a Carolina score.

In the second half, Yates threw his first interception of the season - and first in his last 118 pass attempts dating back to last year - when a ball sailed through the hands of Jheranie Boyd and into a defender's.

"We pretty much gave them every chance to take it from us," Yates said. "We did a good job in the second half of fighting back and overcoming all the stupid stuff we were doing."

Of course it helped that the defense refused to play tired, and that one of the premier playmakers in the country produced the kind of game-changing plays that result in wins.

Especially when a win was something the Tar Heels needed badly.

"It's kind of a relief," Carter said. "Everybody can kind of breathe. But we've still got more games."





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