CHAPEL HILL — Shane Carden twice directed the East Carolina offense to long first-half drives that stalled at the worst possible time. And when things slowed down after halftime, the Pirates were left to lament those missed chances.
Carden threw for just 124 yards and was sacked seven times in East Carolina's 27-6 loss at North Carolina on Saturday, a rough day for an offense that squandered its chances to build some early confidence.
First came a 70-yard drive that reached the 4-yard line only to see Hunter Furr taken down for a 1-yard loss on third-and-short, forcing the Pirates to settle for a field goal from Warren Harvey immediately after UNC's first touchdown.
On the next drive, Carden led the Pirates to the 9 before overthrowing an open Danny Webster in the back of the end zone on third down. Harvey kicked another short field goal to make it a 10-6 game late in the first half.
The Pirates never got near the goal line again. And when the Tar Heels scored two touchdowns in in a 3-minute span of the third quarter, those missing points became even more glaring.
"We've couldn't finish drives," Carden said. "We started out the second quarter well, we were driving the ball and we've got to finish those drives. We do that and we've got two touchdowns, and I think we let them kind of get to us."
For North Carolina, Gio Bernard scored two touchdowns in his return from a knee injury to lead the Tar Heels.
He had missed two straight games since hurting his left knee in the season-opening win against Elon, but he returned with a 14-yard scoring catch from Bryn Renner in the first quarter and added a 4-yard TD run in the third.
Bernard didn't have a big rushing day for the Tar Heels (2-2), finishing with 50 yards on 18 carries. But Renner had little trouble through the air, completing 27 of 43 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns, including a 62-yard scoring pass to sophomore receiver Sean Tapley early in the third.
The Pirates (2-2) finished with 233 total yards.
It was North Carolina's first home game since the 62-0 win in its first game under new coach Larry Fedora. The Tar Heels lost 28-27 at instate Atlantic Coast Conference rival Wake Forest the following week after giving up the go-ahead touchdown with about 2 minutes left, then nearly pulled off a stunning comeback from a 29-0 deficit before falling at Louisville 39-34.
North Carolina had slow starts both times, prompting Fedora to say he was still trying to figure out "what buttons to push" with his new team.
Of course, being without Bernard didn't help in those games even though A.J. Blue and Romar Morris had played well in his absence. Fans greeted Bernard's name in the pregame starting lineup announcements with a loud roar Saturday, and the sophomore quickly made an impact when he took Renner's screen pass and shed a tackler around the 8-yard line on the way to the game's first score at the 5:50 mark of the first quarter.
North Carolina led just 10-6 at halftime but took control when Renner went deep downfield to Tapley, who got behind defender Joshua Hawkins for the catch then shed Hawkins' desperate tackle attempt for the 62-yard score that made it 17-6.
Carden fumbled on a sack on the next possession to give the ball to the Tar Heels at the 15, and Bernard ran it in four plays later to push the lead to 24-6 with 7:55 left in the third.