North Carolina had lost its previous three appearances in Charlotte-based bowl games. Against Cincinnati in Saturday's Belk Bowl, the fourth time was a charm for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina scored the game's first 16 points and kept the Bearcats out of the end zone until midway through the third quarter to claim the Belk Bowl with a 39-17 victory in Charlotte. The win marked the Tar Heels' sixth victory in their last seven games and was just the second bowl win for North Carolina since 2001.
Larry Fedora's team started things off quickly and never looked back thanks to contributions from all three phases of its roster. Romar Morris punched in a two-yard touchdown run to open the scoring before Kareem Martin and Brandon Ellerbe sacked Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay for a safety. T.J. Logan then returned a Bearcat kickoff 78 yards to cap a 16-0 start to the game.
Cincinnati received the opening kickoff of the season half hoping to turn around a 23-3 score. But the Tar Heels forced a punt, which returner UNC's Ryan Switzer took 86 yards to the house for a score. It was Switzer's fifth punt return for a touchdown this season, which tied an NCAA record.
Somehow, the Bearcats had a chance to make a game of things early in the final period. North Carolina fumbled a kickoff and Cincinnati recovered at the Heels' 6-yard line. But Bearcats' receiver Shaq Washington dropped a touchdown pass on fourth down to turn the ball over on downs facing a 36-17 hole.
The Belk Bowl win capped a stellar second half of the season for North Carolina, which entered the year with high hopes in the ACC. Despite those expectations, the Tar Heels stumbled to a 1-5 start. But the program finished the year winning six of its last seven games all while losing starting quarterback Bryn Renner
to a career-ending shoulder injury in November. Backup passer Marquise Williams
stepped in and helped North Carolina finish the year on a high note with 21 total touchdowns and six picks -- he closed the Belk Bowl 19-of-33 passing for 171 yards and one touchdown. More was expected from Fedora's offense this year, but hanging 39 points on a Cincinnati defense that allowed less than 20 a game this season is a good momentum-builder for 2014.