“Zero Dark Thursday” was indeed dark for the No. 10 Miami Hurricanes — until second-string sophomore tailback Dallas Crawford made it very bright.
With Miami star Duke Johnson out of the game with an apparent head injury, Crawford scored the winning touchdown against North Carolina on a 3-yard run with 16 seconds left for a 27-23 UM victory.
Crawford’s team-leading 10th touchdown of the season at Kenan Memorial Stadium kept Miami undefeated. He rushed for a career high 137 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
“I tried to practice like a starter every day, and it paid off,” Crawford said. “It’s all about believing, and that’s what we did tonight. I’m still in awe right now.”
UM coach Al Golden said he expected Crawford to step up, despite the spirited crowd of 56,000.
“He did not surprise anybody,” Golden said. “I’m proud of him.”
Miami is 6-0 (2-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) for the first time since 2004 — when it came into Chapel Hill ranked fourth and lost on a last-second field goal. The Hurricanes now go into their next game, at Sun Life Stadium against Wake Forest on Oct. 26, looking to start 7-0 for the first time since 2003.
North Carolina fell to 1-5 and 0-3.
The North Carolina Tar Heels — dressed in an all-black Nike uniform for the first installment of the “Tar Pit Series’’ — had the Hurricanes out of sorts, out of sync and just plain outplayed Thursday until UM’s final 90-yard drive in which Crawford carried eight times.
"We have a bunch of guys hurting in that locker room down there,'' said UNC coach Larry Fedora. "A bunch of guys that played their tails off and gave everything they had. They did everything we asked, they're continuing to practice hard, they're believing in each other. They're working hard and playing hard.
"Give Miami credit for what they did tonight. They made the plays when they had to make them, and won the game. It's a tough one to swallow.''
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris threw a career-high four interceptions and finished with 322 yards on 19-of-35 passing.
"I had the worst game of my whole entire life, but my teammates were there for me, helping me out and responding for me,'' Morris said. "Just one of those games -- a bad game. But you've got to learn from it and move on.''
The all-white-garbed Canes went into the locker room at halftime trailing 17-13 and without three injured key players.
"Obviously, you're fighting the elements and the environment,'' Golden said. "We have four interceptions, we lose pivotal players and everybody just rallies. It just says a lot about the guys.
"There is no turning back for this group right now. There's no finger-pointing. They are too invested in each other and what they've given and what they've sacrificed to turn back. Again, I told them all week we were going to have to win this game by playing until there were four zeros [on the clock]. That was right until the very end.''
Johnson, ranked fourth in the nation in all-purpose yardage and 13th in rushing yards per game, left the game with just under seven minutes remaining in the first quarter. He took a knee to the helmet, according to the WQAM radio broadcast.
Starting receiver Phillip Dorsett took a helmet to the knee with 1:32 left in the first quarter and didn’t return.
Starting safety Kacy Rodgers left early in the first quarter and didn’t return with what might have been a ankle injury.
The Hurricanes, whose first two scores were field goals by Matt Goudis, took a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter when freshman Artie Burns blocked a 47-yard field-goal attempt — and cornerback Ladarius Gunter scooped it up and sprinted 67 yards for the touchdown.
But UNC receiver Quinshad Davis scored on a 20-yard pass from starter Bryn Renner with 9:50 left in the first half to take a 14-13 lead.
Three consecutive UNC field goals by Thomas Moore gave the Heels a 23-20 lead — 25- and 35-yarders in the third quarter and a 22-yarder early in the fourth.
The 22-yarder came following Morris’ third pick, after which UNC drove 76 yards on 12 plays.
Carolina tight end Eric Ebron had 144 receiving yards and a touchdown on six catches by halftime — the most this season by any tight end in college football.
Ebron set the school record for receiving yards by a tight end, with eight catches for 199 yards — that coming against the nation’s No. 1 pass defense. Carolina, which used quarterbacks Renner and backup Marquise Williams, threw for a combined 395 yards.
Miami gained 556 yards for the night, and the Tar Heels gained 500.