BERKELEY, Calif. — Patrick Laird rushed for one touchdown and caught another, California’s defense took advantage of a rocky outing from North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott, and the Golden Bears held off the Tar Heels 24-17 in the season-opener for both teams Saturday.
Cameron Goode scored on a 38-yard interception return but left in the fourth quarter with a possible leg injury.
Goode’s interception was one of four by the Golden Bears. Cornerback Jaylinn Hawkins had two.
Cal’s defense came up big on a day when the Bears rotated three quarterbacks all afternoon — often during the same series — and were limited to 119 passing yards.
Ross Bowers started for the Bears but was in and out of the game. Chase Garbers threw for one touchdown while Brandon McIlwain also split time running the offense.
Laird plodded his way to 95 yards on 29 carries. He had a 3-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Garbers in the third.
Antonio Williams scored on a 3-yard run for North Carolina. Anthony Ratliff-Williams added a 14-yard touchdown catch.
The Tar Heels trailed 24-3 before scoring a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Elliott’s 14-yard touchdown to Ratliff-Williams with 1:13 remaining cut the lead to 24-17.
North Carolina appeared to recover an onside kick but the Tar Heels were called for an illegal block. Cal recovered the next try.
The Tar Heels struggled in their first game while playing without 13 players who were recently suspended for selling team-issued shoes.
Elliott, who started the final three games in 2017, completed 15 of 35 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown.
North Carolina had one first down in the first half and didn’t cross midfield until early in the third quarter.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels showed some fight late but have a lot of work to do offensively. Elliott struggled all afternoon and had multiple communication issues with his receivers. Defensive end Malik Carney lost his cool early but came back and was Carolina’s most effective player the rest of the way.
California: Looked crisp defensively across the board, especially in the secondary, but will get a better litmus test next week against BYU. The passing game sputtered quite a bit, which could be expected when shuffling quarterbacks in and out.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels face in-state rival East Carolina on Saturday.
California: The Bears go on the road to play a night game at BYU on Saturday.
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