MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Malik Carney hopped up and down in the middle of the North Carolina locker room, joyous teammates bouncing off him in the postgame celebration .
With good reason — since he thwarted any hope Miami had at a comeback.
Carney knocked the ball out of quarterback Brad Kaaya’s hand to snuff out the final Miami possession, and North Carolina ran out the clock to beat the 16th-ranked Hurricanes 20-13 on Saturday and move into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division.
“It was now or never,” Carney said. “The defense had to step up.”
Carney got past Miami left tackle Trevor Darling, hit Kaaya from behind to force the turnover and Elijah Hood’s 13-yard run for a first down with 1:02 left sealed it for the Tar Heels (5-2, 3-1). Mitch Trubisky threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns for North Carolina, while Bug Howard had 10 catches for 156 yards for North Carolina.
“It’s a huge bounce-back game for us, coming down on the road against a very good opponent,” said Trubisky, whose team was embarrassed by Virginia Tech 34-3 last weekend while Hurricane Matthew poured down.
Mark Walton rushed for 82 yards and Joe Yearby ran for 74 more and a touchdown for Miami (4-2, 1-2), which has now dropped two straight by a total of eight points. The Hurricanes lost to Florida State 20-19 last week.
“We need all 11 guys doing the right thing,” said Kaaya, who completed 16 of 31 passes for 224 yards. “It starts with me.”
Kaaya was asked if his shoulder, which limited him in practice this week, was bothering him.
“No. No. No,” Kaaya said.
North Carolina converted 14 of its 23 third-down opportunities.
“I thought that was decisive,” Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.
North Carolina now sits atop the ACC’s Coastal Division , a half-game ahead of Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh.
“I’m pretty pleased with where this team is right now, where we sit and the job that they’ve done,” said North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, whose club won the Coastal last season.
Miami’s 2001 team — the last to win a national title for the Hurricanes and arguably one of the best college teams ever assembled — was honored at halftime, with coach Larry Coker running out of the traditional smoke first and followed by players who trotted from one of the end zones.
They got some cheers, though considering they took the field with Miami down 20-3, the reception was muted.
“There weren’t any adjustments in the second half,” Miami safety Rayshawn Jenkins said. “We had to come out and play the best football of our lives to have a chance to win.”
It was 10-0 North Carolina after one quarter after a touchdown catch by Austin Proehl, and Ryan Switzer made it 20-3 when he hauled in a 1-yard pass with 18 seconds left before halftime. Miami’s defense didn’t allow a point in the second half, highlighted by stopping the Heels on the Hurricane 1 to open the fourth quarter.
“It may not seem like it by our record,” Miami coach Mark Richt said, “but I do think we’re making progress.”
North Carolina: The Tar Heels were flagged for false starts seven times. … Switzer had a very strange stat line: 9 catches, 17 yards. But it was a historic line. The nine catches made him North Carolina’s record-holder for career receptions with 206, passing Quinshad Davis.
Miami: Injuries are now a huge problem for Miami, which wasn’t particularly deep to start the season. Defensive linemen Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson were knocked out of the game with injuries, and linebacker Michael Pinckey was shaken up twice — but returned both times. The Hurricanes’ defense was so depleted that some players not even on the two-deep saw action in the second half.
It’s hard to envision Miami remaining in the AP Top 25 after two straight losses, meaning the Hurricanes would go from No. 10 to unranked in two weeks — the first time since 1968 that the program would go from top 10 to out so rapidly. North Carolina is likely to return to the poll for the second time this month and third time this season.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels resume their Coastal stretch, going to Virginia next Saturday.
Miami: The Hurricanes play at Virginia Tech on Thursday night.