CHAPEL HILL — Sam Howell threw for three first-half scores to set a single-season record for the most TD throws by a true freshman in Bowl Subdivision history as North Carolina beat Mercer 56-7 in its home finale Saturday.
Howell completed 10 of 13 passes for 152 yards and scores of 66, 4 and 33 yards in a dominating opening half for the Tar Heels (5-6). That gave him 32 TD throws on the year to surpass Trevor Lawrence’s 30 for eventual national champion Clemson last year as the most by a true freshman in FBS history, according to Sportradar.
Howell’s TD total also broke the program’s single-season record for any player (30) set by eventual No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Mitch Trubisky in 2016.
The Tar Heels scored touchdowns on their first six drives to lead 42-0 before the break, showing no trouble handling an overmatched Championship Subdivision opponent nor the cold and steady rain that lasted much of the way.
Michael Carter ran for 159 yards and three scores for UNC, including a 60-yarder on the first offensive snap after halftime.
Tyray Devezin ran for 53 yards for the Bears (4-8), allowing him to crack the 1,000-yard mark for the season. But Mercer had 225 total yards and barely avoided matching its most lopsided loss since relaunching the football program in 2013 after a 72-year hiatus.
Mercer: Things started badly and quickly got worse for the Bears, who lost a fumble on the game’s first offensive snap to set up a quick UNC touchdown in a fast-developing rout. There was even a damper on the positive news of Devezin hitting 1,000 yards when his milestone-securing 3-yard run that ended with him on the ground in pain with an apparent left-ankle injury to end his day in the third quarter. Mercer avoided the shutout on Harrison Frost’s 2-yard scoring pass to Kareem Rogers with 3:38 left after flirting with matching a 56-0 loss at Alabama in 2017 as the program’s worst since its relaunch.
UNC: The team that has turned every week into a drama-filled finish (nine of 10 games decided by seven points or fewer) had a rare easy win. Now the Tar Heels are a win shy of bowl eligibility and have matched their win total of the previous two seasons combined.
Mercer: The Bears open next season at Vanderbilt on Sept. 5.
UNC: The Tar Heels travel to rival NC State next Saturday to wrap up the regular season.