by Jacob Swiger
KENAN MEMORIAL STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL -- With UNC leading 23-17 midway through the fourth quarter and Miami threatening to take the lead, Kendric Burney (pictured) leaped and snagged his third interception of the game, resulting in a wacky touchdown return.
Burney, who became the first Tar Heel with three picks in a game since Dre Bly in 1996, appeared to lateral the ball forward to teammate Melvin Williams. Williams then carried the ball to the endzone where video replay showed he was stripped after crossing the goal line.
"The play before that, the interception where I scored, Melvin was asking me why I didn't pitch him the ball," Burney said after the game. "So it was funny that I pitched it to him there, cause he stood there for like half a second."
The officials ruled that Burney fumbled instead of pitched the ball, which gave UNC a 13-point lead.
"To me it looked like he pitched it forward, but I can't get involved with it," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "We could have made something happen on those other plays and it would have made a difference."
Jacory Harris led Miami back down the field and brought the score back within six points. UNC's Ryan Houston and Greg Little rushed the ball relentlessly on the following Tar Heel possession and took nearly six minutes off the game clock before Casey Barth made his fourth field goal of the game.
The clock expired on Miami's next possession, and the Tar Heels (7-3 overall) won their fifth straight game against an AP-top 25 team. UNC is undefeated against Miami in Chapel Hill, and Butch Davis is 3-0 against his former team while coaching at Carolina.
Once again, the UNC defense was the difference. Four interceptions and 214 interception return yards (170 by Burney, an ACC single-game record) made up for the 435 yards Miami's offense totaled.
UNC quarterback T.J. Yates (17-for-31, 213 yards, one touchdown) played his most complete game of the season. After missing high on several of his throws to begin the game, Yates completed four passes of 10 yards or more to lead the game's first scoring drive, which was capped by a 29-yard slant pass to Greg Little. Most importantly, Yates took care of the ball and did not turn it over once.
The UNC offense gained 329 yards and was impressive on its last possession, taking almost 5:30 off the clock and allowing Barth to put the Heels up by two scores with a 33-yard field goal. The adaptability of the offense enabled UNC to put up just enough points to keep Miami throwing. Down their starting running back and with Miami clogging any rushes up the middle for most of the game, the Heels made crucial plays through the air while Miami dropped critical deep passes throughout the game.
The win caps a three-game winning streak in the ACC after UNC started 0-3 in league play. With two games remaining, UNC is bowl eligible for the second straight season and could creep into the top-25 rankings next week.
If UNC beats Boston College and N.C. State, a Chick-fil-A bowl appearance isn't out of the question and neither is a 10-win season if the defense continues to force turnovers and the offense keeps improving.