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Heels reeling after blowout loss

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East Carolina's Kendall Futrell, right, reaches for North Carolina's Nathan Elliot during their game on Sept. 8, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By PATRICK MASON
Rocky Mount Telegram

Saturday, September 8, 2018

North Carolina is already there.

The Tar Heels are at that point in the season no team wants to find itself. Sometimes that point comes late in October. Maybe it can be held off until November after an important, deflating loss. Sometimes it comes early.

For UNC this year, that point has arrived in Week 2.

You know the one. You’ve seen it before. Players and coaches start to look inward, and plead, to nobody in particular, that there is more in the tank. More can be done. All that’s needed is a little self reflection.

UNC finds itself searching for answers after being thoroughly outplayed by East Carolina in a 41-19 loss at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in front of a sea of purple-clad fans. It was the Tar Heels’ third straight loss to the Pirates.

“Just go back and look in the mirror,” UNC receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams said, “and understand what you have to put in to be a successful piece on this team. I’ll do the same. … We’ll be all right.”

This game was about as close as a must-win as it gets for the Tar Heels (0-2), whose schedule only becomes more difficult. UNC will host Central Florida on Sept. 15. The Knights are coming off an undefeated 2017 campaign.

But first, a reeling ECU team stood in the way. The Pirates were coming off a disappointing loss to FCS opponent N.C. A&T and needed a strong performance against an in-state Power 5 opponent to right the ship.

ECU did more than play UNC tough. The Pirates manhandled a program that is supposed to steal recruits from the smaller fish in Greenville.

Receiver Trevon Brown lit up the Tar Heels’ secondary for 90 yards and a touchdown. His output was part of a dominant passing game that UNC had no answer for as Pirates quarterback Reid Herring dotted up UNC for 290 yards.

This game never felt out of hand for the Heels until the second half, which fell hard like an anvil from a cliff. Running back Antonio Williams gashed the Pirates for 96 yards on just six carries in the first half. Williams wasn’t able to finish, however, after being ejected in the first half for a targeting penalty that required ECU’s Colby Gore to be taken off on a stretcher.

Jordon Brown filled in with 59 yards on 13 carries, but the UNC running game never recovered from the loss of Williams. The offense managed just 78 second-half yards, after posting 317 in the first half.

“Jordon Brown came in and did a good job, but we just kind of lost our focus at that point for whatever reason,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said of the Williams ejection. “But that’s not the reason we lost.”

It came down to making plays, really.

On identical fourth-and-1 situations from their own 34, the Tar Heels failed to convert with under 12 minutes to play. Both turnovers happened on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, with UNC needing 19 points to tie.

ECU turned those stops into six points, and sealed the victory.

“We’re 0-2, it’s early in the season,” Fedora said. “We got kids that will keep fighting, coaches will keep coaching, and we’ll get it going.”

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