North Carolina Shrine Bowl head coach Dave Gentry knew his team could have an advantage running the football.
In the second half of Saturday’s 81st annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, the Tarheels committed to showing it.
North Carolina rushed for three fourth-quarter scores to help cement a 55-24 victory over South Carolina. The win marked North Carolina’s first three-year winning streak in the contest since 1949-1951.
“We had a big offensive line and they kind of dominated the line of scrimmage,” Gentry said. “And my two running backs were phenomenal. They were hard runners and they did a great job.”
The Tarheels churned out 303 rushing yards in the contest, led by Rick Person, Jr. from Heritage High School. Person’s 180 yards, two touchdowns and 12 yards per carry average netted him offensive player of the game for North Carolina.
“If you want to be a great team, you’ve got to be able to run the ball,” Person said. “That’s what my coach has always told me. For me to be able to step up and do that at the end of the game was a blessing. All the credit goes to my offensive line, they were opening up the holes for me.
The fourth-quarter outburst answered a third quarter that saw South Carolina trim a 28-12 halftime deficit 35-24 after three quarters. Person’s 52-yard score on the second play of the second half was answered by a 52-yard scoring catch by South Pointe’s Derion Kendrick for South Carolina. T.L. Hanna’s Braylon Peterson picked off a North Carolina pass and returned it 36 yards for the Sandlappers’ other third-quarter score. Gentry said it was crucial for North Carolina to stop the momentum.
“Even in the first half, it seemed like we would score and they would come right back and score,” Gentry said. “When they got the momentum back we knew what we had to do. It was hard for us to put the nail in the coffin until we started grinding it out up front. Those running backs just took care of it.”
The Tarheels had another momentum-killer in the first half. After Bryce Thompson’s 40-yard touchdown catch pulled South Carolina to within 14-12, North Carolina immediately responded with Dyami Brown’s 92-yard kick return to make it 21-12 late in the first quarter.
“That was a big, big play,” Gentry said. “I told the folks at ESPN in the interview yesterday that special teams could be the difference. We had a punt block, we had a kick return for a touchdown, and we didn’t mess up in special teams.”
South Carolina head coach Dave Gutshall said South Carolina’s inability to run the ball and some special teams breakdowns were the keys to the game. The Sandlappers rushed for just 79 yards and gave up 147 combined return yards.
“We didn’t tackle well, that was obvious, but we knew they could lean on us a little bit,” Gutshall said. “I think the thing that really affected us is that we couldn’t run the football. When we couldn’t do that, it put so much pressure on the passing game. The kick return really hurt, and we weren’t very good on special teams. Sometimes with things get rolling, it’s hard to get it to stop.”