(Saturday, September 4th)
Final Score: (21) LSU 30, (18) North Carolina 24
Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - T.J. Yates led 18th-ranked North Carolina to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and nearly a third on the final play of the game, but it wasn't enough for the short-handed Tar Heels, as No. 21 LSU barely held on for a 30-24 win at the Georgia Dome.
The Heels were without 13 players for the season-opener. Seven of those were for violations of school or NCAA rules and six others were kept out while the investigation continues into possible violations of North Carolina law involving sports agents.
Yates had over 400 yards passing, with over half of that being reeled in by Jheranie Boyd, but the Tigers (1-0) were able to thwart the final pass to the end zone.
It all seemed lost for the Tar Heels (0-1) after Yates was sacked from the blind side by Tyrann Mathieu, and the Tigers recovered at the UNC 39 with 1 1/2 minutes left. But Stevan Ridley fumbled the ball away on third down, giving UNC life again.
Boyd made a key 21-yard catch, and Yates followed that with a 20-yarder to the sideline for Joshua Adams. A nine-yard connection to senior tight end Zack Pianalto put the ball at the six with six seconds left. The two tried hooking up again in the back of the end zone, but Pianalto couldn't hold on.
That gave Yates a last try with two seconds left. He looked for Pianalto over the middle, just over the goal line, but the pass fell incomplete as linebacker Stefoin Francois impeded the tight end's progress with his left hand. Yates motioned for a penalty flag, but none came and LSU coach Les Miles breathed a sigh of relief.
"It's the fumbles and holding penalties that killed us. That's part of the first game sometimes," Ridley said. "We just had to make adjustments and move on. I didn't play perfect, and I'll be the first to admit it. I'll just have to learn from this and keep going."
Jordan Jefferson completed 15-of-21 passes for 151 yards with a pair of touchdowns and was picked off once for the Tigers, who won their eighth straight season-opener. They've won 30 straight non-conference games in the regular season, the longest in the nation.
Patrick Peterson set an LSU record for combined return yards with 257. His 244 return yards in the first half was an SEC record for a half.
Yates finished 28-of-46 for 412 yards and three scores. Boyd made six grabs for 221 yards, including a 97-yard TD, which was the longest play from scrimmage in the UNC history.
Defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who had already been suspended by head coach Butch Davis for violating team rules, was one of the players ruled ineligible for UNC. The others are cornerbacks Charles Brown and Kendric Burney, wide receiver Greg Little and defensive ends Michael McAdoo and Robert Quinn, and safety Deunta Williams. The six others who were withheld from Saturday's game were tailbacks Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston, defensive end Linwan Euwell and safeties Brian Gupton, Da'Norris Searcy and Jonathan Smith.
Josh Jasper's 44-yard field goal try clanked off the right upright for LSU early in the first quarter. UNC then fumbled the ball away, which led to Jefferson's six-yard TD pass to Russell Shepard.
Yates tied the game early in the second on a nine-yard TD pass to Devon Ramsay.
Casey Barth's 20-yard field goal moved UNC to a 10-7 edge with 8:24 left in the second, but just 18 seconds later Shepard broke off a 50-yard TD run.
A high snap through the end zone gave LSU a safety less than a minute later, and Peteron rumbled 87 yards on a punt return for a 23-10 margin with four minutes left in the half.
Jefferson's 51-yard TD strike to Rueben Randle widened the gap to 30-10 with 2:28 to go in the second quarter.
Ridley fumbled the ball away deep in UNC territory early in the third and UNC pulled closer in the fourth. Yates, off play action, threw a 97-yard bomb down the middle to Boyd with 10:34 left in the game.
A 14-yard TD pass from Yates to freshman Erik Highsmith made it 30-24 with 2:32 to go.
The Tar Heels were able to recover the onside kick, but Yates fumbled a short time later to set up the dramatic finish.
"We made a lot of mistakes but we fought through them," Boyd said. "I feel like we are a team that fights hard through a lot of adversity. I feel like we are the best team in the ACC."
The last time LSU lost a non-conference regular season game was at Virginia Tech in 2002...LSU is 8-1 all-time at the Georgia Dome...The Tigers went 9-4 last year, losing to Penn State in the Capital One Bowl...The Tar Heels finished 8-5 last season, falling to Pittsburgh in the Meineke Car Care Bowl...The Tigers set a school record for consecutive wins in season-openers, breaking the record of seven straight wins from 1963-69 under head coach Charles McClendon...LSU won its 14th straight game in the month of September.
09/05 02:21:12 ET