UNC quarterback Bryn Renner looks to throw downfield. Renner had 274 yards passing and three touchdowns in the Tar Heels' 37-21 victory. ROBERT WILLETT - email@example.com
Updated 10:05 p.m.
CHAPEL HILL – Bryn Renner didn’t let the moment escape.
After everything the Tar Heels had been through this year – the nine NCAA violations, their coach being fired before the season began, and losing four ACC games in a little more than a month – Renner wanted to thank his leader, the man who he said pushed the Tar Heels to another win: coach Everett Withers.
UNC’s 37-21 victory over rival Duke on Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium increased the Tar Heels' postseason bowl prospects, and it allowed them to keep the Victory Bell. But this win also allowed Renner to thank Withers and give him a game ball in front of his teammates in the locker room.
“We wanted to get the Victory Bell for coach Withers,” Renner said. “I think that was big for us to incorporate a game ball for him.”
After a home win over James Madison to start the season, it was Withers who gave a game ball to former coach Butch Davis, who was fired a week before the Tar Heels began practice.
If this was Withers’ last home game as UNC’s coach, Renner made sure he went out a winner.
Renner led the Tar Heels (7-5, 3-5 ACC) on two critical scoring drives in the second half after Duke cut UNC’s lead to two.
Renner watched Duke backup quarterback Anthony Boone enter the game with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
Boone excelled at times, including his 11-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Varner. Boone not only drove the Blue Devils (3-9, 1-7) down the field, but he had given them confidence by accounting for every yard on the drive: passing for 33, running for 21 and catching a halfback pass for 21.
“They scored on a couple of great plays,” Renner said. “We knew we had to keep scoring points.”
Withers put the ball, and the game, in Renner’s hands when UNC took over on its own 30. Renner responded by completing all four of his passes on the drive, including an 18-yard touchdown to Dwight Jones.
“We just got into a rhythm and we’ve been seeking that a lot this year,” Withers said. “We got it at a very important time in the game.”
When UNC’s offense went on the field for its next possession, after Boone was intercepted by Gene Robinson, Renner orchestrated a 91-yard scoring drive to put the game out of reach. That drive ended with Renner finding Jones for an eight-yard pass.
“I’m blessed to be able to throw him the ball, and I know he’s going to come down with it every time,” Renner said of Jones, as the pair each finished with three touchdowns. “I think when we made it 30-21 with that drive we could feel a sense that we had the momentum.”
Throughout this season Withers, a first-time head coach, and Renner, a first-year starter, have both had to learn their jobs quickly. When the game was over, Withers addressed his Tar Heels by telling them a victory in their bowl game would give them just as many wins as they had last year – which Withers claims would be an accomplishment.
That’s when Renner knew he had to express his gratitude to Withers in the locker room. Withers said he wasn’t surprised by the gesture.
“(Bryn) wanted to do it, and I know he was behind it,” Wither said of the game ball. “It was a moment in the locker room where they really wanted to show me appreciation. It was really nice.”