Renner threw for 230 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown to Erik Highsmith and a 47-yard TD toss to Dwight Jones in a dominating first-half performance by the Tar Heels (4-1). North Carolina scored the first 21 points and never looked back, rolling to 326 yards in the opening half and converting two early turnovers into quick touchdowns to silence a record home crowd for the Pirates (1-3).
Dominique Davis and East Carolina's offense finally built some momentum in the third quarter, getting a touchdown pass to Lance Lewis and closing to within 28-13 entering the final quarter. But, while the Pirates managed to move the football most of the game, they never recovered from that disastrous start and fell to 0-3 against BCS teams.
Davis threw for a school-record 417 yards, though many of those yards came in the second half after the Tar Heels had built their huge lead. He also threw two interceptions, part of the Pirates' four first-half turnovers that sabotaged them from the opening kickoff.
Renner and Jones connected for a second touchdown that ultimately turned away the Pirates' modest rally. With UNC facing a third-and-goal near the goalline, Jones snatched a high throw from Renner with his right hand and pulled it into his midsection despite wrestling with Pirates cornerback Emanuel Davis and falling to the turf. The impressive catch pushed the Tar Heels' lead to 35-13 with 6:55 left and sent many of the home fans who hadn't already bolted during halftime heading to the exits.
North Carolina hadn't traveled to Greenville since Butch Davis' first season four years ago. The Pirates won that game 34-31 on a last-play field goal, which came only after the Tar Heels botched the hold on their own 52-yard field goal attempt for the lead with 49 seconds left. This game drew a rowdy crowd that prompted the school to offer standing-room only admission into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for about 600 fans, setting a new record attendance of 50,610.
But the energy that filled Dowdy-Ficklen didn't last, due both to the Tar Heels' early dominance and the Pirates' bumbling start.
The Pirates were coming off a 28-23 win against Alabama-Birmingham last week despite a school record-tying seven turnovers -- and they picked right up where they left off. North Carolina's Tre Boston ripped the ball away from Danny Webster on a catch in UNC territory to end East Carolina's first drive, Davis threw an interception on the second and Reggie Bullock fumbled on a carry to end the third. Bullock's fumble marked the fifth straight ECU possession -- excluding a kneeldown at the end of the UAB victory -- that ended with a turnover.
After Davis' pick deep in the Pirates' end, the Tar Heels needed just two plays for Renner to find Jheranie Boyd for an 11-yard touchdown and the game's first score. Then, after Bullock's fumble, Renner found Highsmith alone several steps behind the secondary and hit him in stride over the middle for the 75-yard score that made it 14-0. Bernard followed that by stiff-arming Bradley Jacobs inside the 5 before slipping past him for a 10-yard score that made it 21-0 with 12:57 left in the period.
During that drive, Bernard cracked the 100-yard mark for the third straight game.