Scores

Final

East Carolina 17

(1-2, 0-2 away)

(24) North Carolina 31

(3-0, 2-0 home)

12:00 PM ET, September 19, 2009

Kenan Stadium, CHAPEL HILL, NC

1 2 3 4 T
ECU 7 7 0 317
#24UNC 7 14 3 731

Top Performers

Passing: T. Yates (UNC) - 227 YDS, 2 TD

Rushing: R. Houston (UNC) - 12 CAR, 41 YDS, 2 TD

Receiving: E. Highsmith (UNC) - 6 REC, 113 YDS, 1 TD

Freshman Highsmith's 113 yards receiving, TD key UNC's victory

Associated Press

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- One freshman ran with the steady confidence of being the go-to guy. The other managed a juggling 59-yard touchdown for his first collegiate catch.

It turns out No. 24 North Carolina just might have some receivers after all.

Erik Highsmith had six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown while Jheranie Boyd hauled in that long first-half TD Saturday to help North Carolina beat East Carolina 31-17, giving the Tar Heels their first 3-0 start in a dozen years.

Ryan Houston also ran for a pair of touchdowns, part of a balanced day from a young offense that had been plagued by dropped passes and bad blocking in its earlier games. North Carolina finished with 433 total yards, including a season-high 285 through the air, and put the game away with a clock-draining drive that ended with Houston's 5-yard run with 1:58 left.

Not bad for an offense trying to replace three receivers who were NFL draft picks in the spring, including first-rounder Hakeem Nicks.

"We're a work in progress," coach Butch Davis said. "Let's don't make any mistakes about it. We're going to have challenges. We're going to have adversity. ... But our kids believe in each other and the coaches believe in the kids and they just keep trying to find a way to fight and give us the best chance to play as well as we can each Saturday."

North Carolina hasn't been 3-0 since Mack Brown's last team started 8-0 in 1997. It opened with a romp against The Citadel, then rallied in the fourth quarter to win at Connecticut 12-10 last weekend. This time, they faced a veteran instate rival that had knocked off Virginia Tech and West Virginia last season on the way to the Conference USA championship.

The Tar Heels got another tough defensive performance, holding East Carolina (1-2) to 247 total yards. They also recovered a fumble, blocked a second-half field goal and got two sacks from Robert Quinn.

Only this time, the offense kept up the entire way.

"We see it at practice all the time," defensive tackle Marvin Austin said. "We know they can move the ball. They just had to get in a rhythm and go out and execute. I'm glad they've got that thing rolling now. It's going to help us on defense. We can pin our ears back and go get 'em now."

Highsmith was particularly impressive, starting with a 16-yard catch for North Carolina's first score. But he made his biggest plays in the fourth quarter after the Pirates had closed to within 24-17. First he took a quick out from T.J. Yates and sprinted 43 yards for first down. Two plays later, Yates rolled to his left and found Highsmith again for a 10-yard gain and another first down that ultimately led to Houston's second score.

"I'm probably nervous every game the first play," Highsmith said. "But after that, the game just slowed down for me. It felt like high school again."

In perhaps a good omen, Highsmith became the first true freshman to crack the 100-yard mark here since Nicks did it three times in 2006. Even better, he wears Nicks' No. 88 jersey.

"Their receivers showed more today than they had showed on film," Pirates coach Skip Holtz said. "They were dialed-in and focused. They did a nice job with it ... because when you watched them on film, they had dropped a bunch and their passing game was a little bit out of whack, but they were impressive today."

The Pirates handed Davis his first loss as North Carolina's coach in 2007 with a last-play field goal in Greenville. Patrick Pinkney threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in that game, but threw for just 157 yards and a touchdown in this one. He got no help from the rushing attack, either; East Carolina had 55 yards on 30 carries against the Tar Heels' defensive front.

Pinkney found Jamar Bryant for a 7-yard touchdown and the game's first score and Dwayne Harris later ran for a touchdown to make it 14-all in the second quarter. But Houston put the Tar Heels ahead for good with a 1-yard run late in the half for a 21-14 lead at the break.

East Carolina still hasn't scored a second-half touchdown, outscored 41-5 after the break this year.

"When you've got NFL-bound players coming at you every play," Pinkney said, "it's hard."

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Team Stat Comparison

 
ECU
UNC
1st Downs1322
Total Yards247433
Passing192285
Rushing55148
Penalties7-426-56
3rd Down Conversions6-164-11
4th Down Conversions1-21-1
Turnovers11
Possession30:4629:14

Passing Leaders

East CarolinaC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Pinkney19/301575.210
North CarolinaC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Yates19/242279.520

Rushing Leaders

East CarolinaCARYDSAVGTDLG
Jackson12352.9012
Harris4153.816
North CarolinaCARYDSAVGTDLG
Draughn19844.4015
Houston12413.429

Receiving Leaders

East CarolinaRECYDSAVGTDLG
Womack46616.5035
Taylor5469.2019
North CarolinaRECYDSAVGTDLG
Highsmith611318.8143
Little55911.8034

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERECUUNC
TD07:07Jamar Bryant 7 Yd Pass From Patrick Pinkney (Ben Hartman Kick) 70
TD04:44Erik Highsmith 16 Yd Pass From T.J. Yates (Casey Barth Kick) 77
SECOND QUARTERECUUNC
TD08:09Jheranie Boyd 59 Yd Pass From T.J. Yates (Casey Barth Kick) 714
TD06:22Dwayne Harris 6 Yd Run (Ben Hartman Kick) 1414
TD02:57Ryan Houston 1 Yd Run (Casey Barth Kick) 1421
THIRD QUARTERECUUNC
FG09:21Casey Barth 28 Yd 1424
FOURTH QUARTERECUUNC
FG06:21Ben Hartman 22 Yd 1724
TD01:58Ryan Houston 5 Yd Run (Casey Barth Kick) 1731