It turned out to be a sweet homecoming for North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard.
The former Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas standout and redshirt sophomore played in front of his father and older brother, Yvenson, for the first time in his college career.
Bernard ran for 177 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Tar Heels to an 18-14 victory Saturday.
“It meant the world to me,” Bernard said.
Bernard ran the ball 27 times and picked up several big first downs in the process, including a crucial 17-yard catch to convert a fourth-down conversion just before the half.
With North Carolina facing a fourth-and-6 at the Hurricanes’ 33-yard line, Bernard circled out of the backfield and made a shoestring catch before tumbling down.
He scored on a 17-yard run moments later to put North Carolina ahead 15-7 at the half.
“There was a little hang time on there so I was able to get underneath it,” said Bernard, who finished with four catches for 36 yards.
Bernard, who sat out North Carolina’s only two losses this season with a knee injury, now has nine 100-yard rushing games in his career.
Bernard led all freshman last season with 1,222 yards.
“Giovanni Bernard is a great running back,” said Hurricanes middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, who had a season-high 11 tackles. “He’s a hard-nosed runner, a spinner, breaks contact.
“He broke a couple of my tackles [Saturday]. He just does what he needs to do.”
JAMES CAREER DAY
Hurricanes running back Mike James ran 22 times for 96 yards, a career best in both categories.
Miami, held to 169 yards combined rushing in its past two games, ran a season-high 45 times for 180 yards against the Tar Heels.
It helped the Hurricanes win time of possession for the first time this season.
The Hurricanes hadn’t done that since the season finale last year against Boston College.
Miami had the ball for 30 minutes 18 seconds.
The previous best? It was 29:37 at Georgia Tech.
“I thought we had balance,” UM coach Al Golden said. “It’s disappointing we didn’t score more points with the type of balance we had. We just have to keep working.”
Tailback Duke Johnson, who showed up on the injury report this week with a lower extremity injury (toe), ran for 47 yards on 14 attempts (3.4 average). Johnson said he’s about “95 to 90 percent” healthy.
“I’m feeling good,” said Johnson, who has run for 108 yards on 34 attempts in his last three games combined. “It’s just more mental, actually planting on it. It’s not hurting or anything. It’s trusting it.”
Freshman receiver Robert Lockhart Jr. and defensive end Ricardo Williams made their first appearances of the season.
Through seven games, 21 freshmen have seen action for the Hurricanes — including 16 true freshmen.
Lockhart didn’t make a catch.
Williams didn’t make a tackle.
“We’re playing a lot of guys that are learning,” Golden said. “They have to continue to grow.
“ Sometimes when you play guys before they’re ready, they can have negative reinforcement and we can’t have that right now. We have to keep pushing them forward and be positive.”