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Series History: Notre Dame and North Carolina Have A Longer Football History Than You Think

Notre Dame and North Carolina have a series history that goes well past the Irish joining the ACC

Notre Dame and North Carolina square off for the fifth time in eight seasons this weekend when the Irish travel to Chapel Hill. This coincides with the Fighting Irish joining the ACC for olympic sports and partnering with the ACC for at least five football games per season. Of course, one of those matchups (2020) was during the Covid-19 season, which was the season the Irish joined the ACC as a partial member.

But the Notre Dame vs. North Carolina football history goes back much, much further than just the recent matchups as ACC members.


Notre Dame and North Carolina have met 21 times previously, with the Irish holding an 20-2 advantage in the series. Of course, the NCAA considers it 20-1 with North Carolina vacating the 2008 victory over the Irish. The Irish and Heels met every season from 1949-1962 except for 1957 and 1961. The Irish won all four games of the last decade, with two wins coming at home (2021, 2014) and two on the road (2020, 2017).


2021 – Notre Dame 44, North Carolina 34
2020 – Notre Dame 31, North Carolina 17
2017 – Notre Dame 33, North Carolina 10
2014 – Notre Dame 50, North Carolina 43
2008 – North Carolina 29, Notre Dame 24
2006 – Notre Dame 45, North Carolina 26
1975 – Notre Dame 21, North Carolina 14
1971 – Notre Dame 16, North Carolina 0
1966 – Notre Dame 32, North Carolina 0
1965 – Notre Dame 17, North Carolina 0
1962 – Notre Dame 21, North Carolina 7
1960 – North Carolina 12, Notre Dame 7
1959 – Notre Dame 28, North Carolina 8
1958 – Notre Dame 34, North Carolina 24
1956 – Notre Dame 21, North Carolina 14
1955 – Notre Dame 27, North Carolina 7
1954 – Notre Dame 42, North Carolina 13
1953 – Notre Dame 34, North Carolina 14
1952 – Notre Dame 34, North Carolina 14
1951 – Notre Dame 12, North Carolina 7
1950 – Notre Dame 14, North Carolina 7
1949 – Notre Dame 42, North Carolina 6


2021 – In last season’s shootout, North Carolina took a 20-17 lead on the first drive of the second half before rushing touchdowns from Jack Coan and Logan Diggs gave Notre Dame the 31-20 lead. However, Sam Howell and the Tar Heels answered, and the game went into the fourth quarter with the Irish holding a slim 31-27 advantage. With 14:27 left in the game, running back Kyren Williams made one of the plays of the season, turning what would have been a four-yard loss into a 91-yard touchdown run. Williams finished with 199 yards rushing and was key in overcoming a strong performance from Howell, who threw for 341 yards while adding another 101 on the ground. Though the Irish defense was gashed by the Tar Heels, they would only allow 23 points the rest of the regular season (5.8 PPG) as Notre Dame finished 11-1 and earned a Fiesta Bowl berth.

2020 – Ian Book and the second-ranked Fighting Irish traveled to Chapel Hill for what most pundits figured would be a shootout. However, after giving up touchdowns on North Carolina’s two opening drives and losing star safety Kyle Hamilton to an ejection for targeting, the Irish defense clamped down. All the Tar Heel offense would get the rest of the game would be a field goal shortly before halftime. Notre Dame racked up 6 sacks and 8 TFLs, holding North Carolina to only 298 total yards, 14 first downs, and 2-12 third down conversions. On the offensive side, Book, RB Kyren Williams, and WR Javon McKinley made enough big plays to overcome what was a sluggish offensive performance overall.

2017 – Fresh off dominating victories at Boston College, at Michigan State, and against Miami (OH) after the disappointing loss to Georgia, Notre Dame traveled to North Carolina. QB Ian Book would make the first start of his career in place of an injured Brandon Wimbush. Notre Dame started slow offensively, and Book threw two interceptions, but dominating offensive line play and a dynamic rushing attack led by Josh Adams and Deon McIntosh piled up 341 yards rushing. The defense pitched in as well, sacking then-QB Chazz Surratt (who would move to LB and be drafted by the Vikings) twice, to go along with 11 hurries, 7 passes defended, and three forced turnovers. The Irish rode the momentum from the victory over the Heels into the bye week and then would rout USC, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest before the season came off the rails in Miami.

2014 – Notre Dame was undefeated and ranked 6th in the nation but needed a fourth quarter rally to outlast a below average North Carolina team 50-43. The following weekend Notre Dame would lose a heartbreaking game at Florida State before the 2014 season went sideways. Though DC Brian VanGorder would last until midway through the 2016 season, the North Carolina game in 2014 was the first time his defensive scheme was exposed. Coming into the North Carolina game, the Irish defense was only giving up 12.0 PPG (in 5 games) and had shut out Michigan and limited #14 Stanford to 14 points the previous week. However, in the 7 games after the UNC victory, Notre Dame surrendered 39.4 PPG – a major reason the Irish dropped games down the stretch to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville, and USC.

1966 – Notre Dame dominated North Carolina 32-0 en route to the 1966 national title. The Irish surrendered only 3.8 PPG in 1966 (easily ranking first in the country), and in addition to shutting out North Carolina, would also post shutouts against Army, Oklahoma, Pitt, Duke, and USC.

1949 – Frank Leahy’s Notre Dame team easily dispatched North Carolina 42-6 in the first-ever meeting between the two schools, which took place at Yankee Stadium. The Irish would go on to win Leahy’s fourth (and final) national title that season with Leon Hart capturing the Heisman Trophy. 

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