North Carolina punter Ben Kiernan likely did not go into the Tar Heels' game against Syracuse expecting to get destroyed, but that's exactly what happened.
Midway through the first quarter, with the Tar Heels leading 3-0, Kiernan set up to punt on a 4th and 3 from his own 39 yard-line. His punt was blocked by Denis Jaquez Jr, but the Tar Heels punter was able to regroup and scoop up the bouncing ball and ran towards the sideline, aiming to pick up the first down at the 42 yard-line.
CUSE BLOCKS THE PUNT!! THE PUNTER GETS CRUSHED BUT THEY RULE A FIRST DOWN FOR UNC (under review) pic.twitter.com/J608D32RnU
— Sickos Committee (@SickosCommittee) October 7, 2023
Kiernan got right to the first down marker when he was rocked by a Syracuse defender. Kiernan stayed on the ground for a few moments, rolling around in pain, while the officials marked the ball directly at the line to gain, giving North Carolina a first down.
Replays from the ESPN telecast showed that Kiernan may have been short of the first down marker, but the officials still granted the Tar Heels the first down. The Syracuse sideline did not agree with the call, as did the ESPN crew, who seemed somewhat confused by the call.
While Kiernan will certainly feel that hit tomorrow, and may be done punting for the day, his pain was not in vain. North Carolina went on to extend the drive another nine plays and capped it off with a Drake Maye quarterback sneak to extend the lead to 10-0.
Kiernan's presence of mind- and bravery- to pick up the ball may end up being the difference in this game as Syracuse would have at least had the ball deep within North Carolina territory with a chance to take a 7-3 lead. Instead, the Tar Heels now have a two-score lead at home heading into the second quarter.
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