Charlotte, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Freshman Ryan Switzer tied the NCAA single-season record with his fifth punt return for a touchdown, and the North Carolina Tar Heels posted a 39-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Belk Bowl.
Switzer matched the mark Chad Owens set with Hawaii in 2004 with an electrifying 86-yard run in the third quarter, one of two special teams touchdowns by North Carolina.
Romar Morris had two rushing touchdowns for the Tar Heels (7-6), who had lost their three previous appearances in this Charlotte-based bowl game when it was formerly known as the Continental Tire Bowl (2004) and the Meineke Car Care Bowl (2008-09).
The triumph capped a huge turnaround for the Tar Heels, who began the year 1-5.
"At 1-5, nobody thought we would be sitting here today. But these guys kept believing and got it done," UNC head coach Larry Fedora said.
Marquise Williams was 19-of-33 for 171 yards with one touchdown pass and added 46 yards on the ground.
Brendon Kay finished with 181 yards and one interception on 15-of-35 passing for Cincinnati (9-4).
"This is not the way (the seniors) wanted to go out," Kay said.
The Tar Heels built a comfortable second-half lead, but the opportunity presented itself for Cincinnati to create doubt in the game's outcome.
Cincinnati had just closed the gap to 36-17 early in the fourth quarter when T.J. Thorpe fumbled while returning the subsequent kick. The Bearcats recovered at the North Carolina 6-yard line. However, on fourth down, a wide- open Shaq Washington had Kay's high throw go off his hands in the left corner of the end zone.
The next Tar Heel drive consumed nine-plus minutes and ended with Thomas Moore's 40-yard field goal, the same distance from which he missed in the first quarter.
The Tar Heels were unable to capitalize on an early special teams mistake. After North Carolina went three-and-out to begin the game, Cincinnati's Anthony McClung fumbled the punt. Moore was wide right after the Tar Heels failed to get a first down again.
North Carolina reached the end zone on its next drive as Morris ran for a 2- yard TD on 3rd-and-goal.
Later in the first quarter, Kareem Martin and Brandon Ellerbe combined for a sack of Kay in the end zone for a safety. T.J. Logan then returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown and 16-0 North Carolina lead.
A 34-yard Tony Miliano field goal put Cincinnati on the board inside the opening minute of the second quarter, but Jack Tabb's 3-yard TD reception extended the Tar Heels' lead to 23-3 at halftime.
Switzer tied Owens' record with just over four minutes elapsed in the third quarter.
The Bearcats had success running the ball on the opening drive of the second half, advancing to the North Carolina 43. However, Kay was sacked on third down and Cincinnati punted to Switzer, who broke free for the touchdown.
A missed extra point kept the Tar Heels' lead at 29-3.
After Cincinnati's Ralph Abernathy and Morris traded touchdown runs, Washington took over at quarterback in the wildcat and closed out the third quarter with a 52-yard run. Washington ran for a 10-yard TD on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Kay set a Cincinnati single-season record with 262 completions ... Logan paced North Carolina's ground game with 77 yards on 15 carries ... Abernathy rushed 13 times for 67 yards ... The Bearcats played in the Belk Bowl for the second consecutive season after posting a 48-34 victory over Duke last December.