UNC's Giovani Bernard (26) breaks away from East Carolina's Emanuel Davis (38) in the second quarte. ROBERT WILLETT - firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated 12:00 a.m.
GREENVILLE – Earlier this week, North Carolina cornerback Charles Brown said there’s nothing more fun than beating a rival that hates you.
Except, apparently, blowing one out.
Tailback Gio Bernard recorded his third straight 100-yard rushing game, quarterback Bryn Renner threw for four touchdowns, and UNC’s defense forced four turnovers to beat East Carolina 35-20 on Saturday in front of a record crowd at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Tar Heels (4-1) now lead the all-time series 11-2-1.
“It definitely feels better [to win] against a rival,’’ said UNC defensive end Quinton Coples, who hails from nearby Kinston. “But I think after this one, we’re not going to call it a ‘rivalry’ anymore – it’s just another game.”
Although ECU racked up 490 yards in total offense – and Pirates quarterback Dominique Davis threw for a school record 417 yards – most of it was for naught.
“The first half,” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said, “we got ourselves in a hole.”
Indeed, he Pirates (1-3), who turned it over seven times last weekend, continued that trend on their first three possessions – allowing the Tar Heels a 14-0 cushion after Renner turned a Tim Scott interception into an 11-yard passing touchdown to Jheranie Boyd; and then Renner found receiver Erik Highsmith for a 75-yard touchdown after linebacker Kevin Reddick recovered a fumble.
“I thought Bryn was sharp tonight,’’ UNC coach Everett Withers said of the sophomore, who completed 13 of 20 passes for 230 yards, zero interceptions – and was sacked zero times.
“He found his receivers … and instead of always trying to make something happen, he threw it away when he needed to. And that shows growth.”
Bernard (24 carries, 146 yards) made it 21-0 early in the second quarter on a 10-yard run to the end zone; he went over 100 yards on that series, and UNC never looked back.
“We wanted to take the ball and take the air out of it – run it and run it and run it, and throw it when we had shots,’’ Withers said. “We did that for the most part, but we didn’t do it as well later in the game when we needed to.”
UNC receiver Dwight Jones (six catches, 93 yards, two touchdowns) gave his team 28-3 halftime cushion on a 47-yard touchdown grab, from Renner.
ECU finally got into the end zone with 5:20 left in the third quarter, when Davis capped a 97-yard scoring drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Lance Lewis. Kicker Mike Barbour booted a 25-yarder to cut the Pirates’ deficit to 28-13. But Jones’ one-handed touchdown grab from Renner, with about seven minutes left, sealed UNC victory.
By the time Davis found Danny Webster for a 4-yard touchdown pass with 2:49 remianing for the final tally, ECU’s fans had already started streaming out of the stadium.
And it wasn’t long until UNC’s celebration began.
“Any time you’re 4-1, it’s fun,’’ Withers said. “I just want to get on the bus, and go.”