CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — While the North Carolina Tar Heels may not have gotten a win Thursday night, they appear to have found a running back they can lean on this season.
Elijah Hood ran for 138 yards on 12 carries in a 17-13 loss to border state rival South Carolina.
"Elijah has proven to us that he is the starter," Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said.
Hood ran extremely hard, breaking tackles and picking up big yards after first contact. After an injury-plagued freshman season, he seems ready to be a force.
That made it all the more inexplicable when the Tar Heels took him out of the game on their final possession after reaching the South Carolina 9.
"I have to go back and look at the calls of what we were doing down there," Fedora said.
When asked about being removed with the game on the line, Hood said it was a coach's decision and didn't question the move. He said he's all about "what's best for the football team."
North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams struggled in the Tar Heels' loss with three interceptions — two of them in the end zone, including that last one on a fourth and goal with 3:48 left in the game.
It was Moore's second interception of game — both of his picks coming in the end zone.
Williams finished 19 of 31 for 232 yards and one touchdown.
"I knew better than to do that," Williams said of the turnovers. "I'll bounce back stronger next week. It was great to be back home, but it was sad that I couldn't come away with the victory, how I wanted it to be and make a statement from the first game."
Bug Howard had six catches for 114 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown reception for UNC.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he felt "fortunate" to escape with a win.
"We're not strutting out of here like we're hot stuff, that's for sure," Spurrier said.
The Gamecocks trailed 13-10 in the fourth quarter when third-string running back Shon Carson entered the game and made an immediate impact, racing around right end for a 48-yard go-ahead touchdown with 12:45 left in the game.
The Gamecocks kept going to Carson on the next drive, running right on almost every play. Carson finished with 75 yards on four carries — all in the fourth quarter.
"It was a wonderful idea putting him in the game," Spurrier said of the decision by running backs coach Everette Sands.
South Carolina quarterback Connor Mitch was 9 for 22 for 122 yards and a touchdown in his first career start before leaving with a hip injury in the fourth quarter. Spurrier said he expects Mitch to start Sept. 12 against Kentucky if he's healthy enough to play.
Mitch started slow missing on his first five passes but improved as he became more comfortable in the pocket.
Known as a traditional pocket passer, Mitch showed some surprising mobility rushing for a team-high 47 yards on seven carries in the first half. He also showed some feistiness, penalized 15 yards for taunting after completing a first down pass in the third quarter.
"When I first started off, I had a little jitters obviously, but that comes with the game," Mitch said. "But as the offense settled in, we started moving the ball consistently."
The Tar Heels were coming off a horrendous season on defense allowing a school record 39 points and 497.8 yards per game in 2014.
But under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik they tackled better and applied more pressure for three quarters, shutting out the Gamecocks in the first quarter and taking a 13-10 lead into fourth quarter.
"There are some things we can build on," Fedora said.