College Football: UNC 35, McNeese State 27
Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 30, 2008
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó Brandon Tate took the opening kickoff and sprinted straight up the field for a 56-yard gain to open North Carolina’s promise-filled season.
Fortunately for the Tar Heels, it was only the first of many times he looked like no one could bring him down.
He returned punts. He caught deep passes. He took handoffs and ran right past oncoming defenders. And when it was over, Tate had a school-record 397 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns that helped the Tar Heels hold off McNeese State 35-27 on Saturday.
Tate had an 82-yard punt return for a score in the first quarter and the go-ahead 57-yard scoring catch in the third, a dazzling one-man show that proved to be just about all the Tar Heels had in an unimpressive start to their second season under Butch Davis. In a game suspended nearly two hours due to weather, they blew a 14-0 first-half lead and had to rally from a third-quarter deficit against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent that outplayed them much of the way.
On this night, however, Tate’s ability to weave through oncoming defenders or break free from the clutches of would-be tacklers was enough.
“There is no ‘I’ in team,” cornerback Kendric Burney said, “but there is a Brandon Tate.”
The senior receiver also had a 54-yard run that helped set up the Tar Heels’ second touchdown and a 38-yard punt return, breaking the school record of 339 all-purpose yards set by Derrick Fenner in 1986.
The 397 yards were second-most in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
“It just kind of came in the flow of the game,” said Tate, who led the Tar Heels with 106 yards rushing to go with 93 yards receiving. “I was feeling it from the jump, so I guess the coaches realized it and put the ball in my hands.”
Brooks Foster also had a touchdown catch for North Carolina, which compiled most of its 384 yards in the final 20 minutes. Shaun Draughn and Greg Little ran for fourth-quarter touchdowns that helped the Tar Heels stay in front, while Hakeem Nicks had six catches for 110 yards.