CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Dallas Crawford wasn’t going to waste the chance to carry the load for No. 10 Miami.
As for the Hurricanes, they learned they’ve got some depth behind injured top rusher Duke Johnson.
After Johnson went down with an early unspecified injury, Crawford powered Miami to a fourth-quarter comeback and scored the winning touchdown with 16 seconds left in a 27-23 win at North Carolina on Thursday night. Crawford, a redshirt sophomore from Fort Myers, had 137 yards on 33 carries against the Tar Heels to surpass his totals for the entire season.
“I didn’t even know it was that many carries,” Crawford said. “I’m not tired. I’m not banged up or anything. I feel great.”
Crawford scored a pair of touchdowns in the final quarter. First came the 3-yard run that brought Miami (6-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) to within 23-20 with 11:29 left. Then came another 3-yard score, this one by barreling over Dominique Green at the goal line to put the Hurricanes ahead for good.
That final score capped a 13-play, 90-yard drive. Crawford carried the ball eight times on that drive.
“Unbelievable. What an unbelievable effort,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “What can you say about him? That’s who he is. He’s a competitor, he’s got moxie, and I’m proud of him.”
Crawford saw primarily special teams duty last year and ran six times for 23 yards. This year, he had run 25 times for 119 yards behind Johnson, who ranked as one of the nation’s leading rushers at 114 yards per game.
But after Johnson left, Crawford got stronger as the game wore on. After running nine times for 26 yards in the first half, he ran 24 times for 111 yards after halftime.
Crawford said former NFL and Miami star Clinton Portis talked to him before the final drive that ended with his winning score.
“It calmed me down,” Crawford said. “He told me, ‘This is your moment. This is what you’ve been waiting on.’ And it paid off.”
Miami’s players certainly had every reason to believe this just wasn’t their night early on.
Johnson’s departure started a run of injuries that also included starting receiver Phillip Dorsett, who appeared to injure his left knee and was standing on the sideline with crutches by halftime.
There was quarterback Stephen Morris throwing four interceptions to match his season total.
There was a defense ranked among the nation’s best that gave up a season-high 500 yards and struggled to stop UNC tight end Eric Ebron.
Yet at the end, the Hurricanes rallied from 10 down early in the fourth quarter to keep themselves in position for a Coastal Division crown and an appearance in the ACC championship game – though they still have games against No. 5 Florida State and No. 19 Virginia Tech.
“There’s no turning back for this group right now,” Golden said. “They’re not turning back. There’s no finger-pointing. They’re too invested in each other and in what they’ve given and what they’ve sacrificed to turn back.”
Miami got the stop it needed to seal it, with Bryn Renner’s final heave into the end zone from the Miami 28 falling incomplete on the final play.
It was the latest stinging setback for the Tar Heels (1-5, 0-3), who entered the year with hopes of winning the division but now find themselves off to their worst start since 2006. They led this one 23-13 early in the fourth before Crawford led the comeback.
“We didn’t stop the run there on those last two drives,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “We just didn’t make the play when we needed to make the play down there.”
North Carolina was playing only the second Thursday night home game in program history, breaking out black helmets and uniforms for a night it billed as “Zero Dark Thursday” all the way back in April. And the Tar Heels nearly earned their first win against a top-10 opponent since beating then-No. 4 Miami here on a last-second field goal in 2004.
Instead, the Hurricanes are 6-0 for the first time since that season.