CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard scored three touchdowns and had his sixth 100-yard rushing performance to help North Carolina beat Wake Forest 49-24 on Saturday, making the Tar Heels bowl eligible for the fourth straight season.
Bernard ran for a pair of touchdowns and had a 7-yard scoring catch in the first quarter, while North Carolina (6-3, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) took advantage of an uncharacteristic line of mistakes from the normally sure-handed Demon Deacons (5-3, 4-2). Wake Forest had five turnovers - three on interceptions thrown by Tanner Price - after committing just five all season coming into Saturday, and the Tar Heels converted four of those into touchdowns.
It all led to a huge day for the UNC offense, which had a season-high 562 total yards and its best scoring output in seven years. It was also North Carolina's most points in an ACC game in a decade.
Bernard ran for 154 yards on 27 carries, while his short TD catch in the opening quarter was his first career scoring reception. He reached the 100-yard mark on a 4-yard carry early in the fourth, then broke off a 54-yard run late to finish 1 yard shy of matching his season-high. He also moved within 35 yards of becoming the first Tar Heel to run for 1,000 yards in a season since Jonathan Linton did it in Mack Brown's final season in 1997.
Bryn Renner completed 21 of 28 passes for a career-high 338 yards and three touchdowns, while top receiver Dwight Jones had six catches for 138 yards. Fellow wideout Erik Highsmith added his first two-TD performance, scoring on a 4-yard catch in the opening quarter and on a diving 38-yard grab early in the fourth that blew the game open.
UNC forced turnovers on Wake Forest's first two possessions and jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. The Tar Heels led 21-17 late in the third before turning it into a rout, getting a short touchdown run from Ryan Houston and Bernard's second 4-yard scoring run to push the lead to 35-17 less than a minute into the fourth.
It was definitely a good way for the Tar Heels to erase the memories from an ugly 59-38 loss at Clemson last weekend, which included the Tar Heels committing six turnovers and giving up 35 points in the third quarter. The 49 points against the Demon Deacons were the most by the Tar Heels since scoring 49 against William & Mary to open the 2004 season and the most by UNC in an ACC game since scoring 52 against Duke in 2001.
As for Wake Forest, Price threw for 146 yards before being pulled early in the fourth quarter. Chris Givens, ranked fourth nationally with 127 yards receiving per game, finished with six catches for 42 yards.
Brandon Pendergrass ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries to lead Wake Forest.