Howell head shot

Sam Howell

CHARLOTTE — Hoping for a bit of deja vu in their return to Bank of America Stadium, things quickly turned into a waking nightmare for former Sun Valley High quarterback Sam Howell and the UNC football team last week.

Playing in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Thursday, Howell and the Tar Heels were stifled at every turn, falling to South Carolina, 38-21, in what will be Howell’s final collegiate game.

Under duress for most of the game, Howell finished 12-of-20 for 205 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. He was sacked four times.

This was the first time Howell played in Bank of America Stadium since his collegiate debut in Aug. 2019, which also came against South Carolina. In that game, Howell was 15-of-24 for 245 yards and two touchdowns against zero interceptions.

North Carolina (6-7) was held in check on the ground for most of the game too. UNC’S leading rusher coming into the game, Ty Chandler, totaled 29 yards on nine carries. Howell, who ran for 825 yards and 11 touchdowns entering the game, finished with just three yards on 13 carries.

The Tar Heel defense struggled to contain South Carolina’s offense, which went with a completely new gameplan than normal. South Carolina started junior Dakereon Joyner, who had been playing slot receiver, under center, and the former high school quarterback finished the game 9-for-9 for 160 yards and a touchdown, adding 64 yards on 10 carries.

On Saturday, Howell, a junior, announced on social media that he would forgo his senior season and instead declare for the 2022 NFL Draft. He will leave UNC as the most decorated quarterback in school history.

“These past few years, and especially the past few months, have been a whirlwind, but I have a lot of peace about the next chapter of my life,” Howell said in a video released on his Instagram. “I’ll forever be grateful for my time at Carolina and the people who made it so special. Chapel Hill will always hold a special place in my heart. I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I’m hopeful, and I know whatever it may be, it will be good.”

Howell has already received his undergraduate degree from UNC.

In three seasons at UNC, Howell set records in passing yards (10,283), passing touchdowns (92), total touchdowns (111) and total yards (11,292). Howell’s 92 career touchdown passes rank him third in ACC history behind former Clemson QB Tahj Boyd (107) and former N.C. State QB Philip Rivers (95).

Howell is projected to be one of the top three to five quarterbacks taken in the 2022 NFL Draft. In fact, Pro Football Focus’ latest mock draft, which came out Monday morning, had Howell as the No. 1 quarterback taken, going No. 9 overall to the Washington Football Team.

PFF noted that in UNC’s bowl game, Howell finished with a 92.4 grade while making three “big-time” throws and zero “turnover-worthy” plays.

CBS Sports’ latest mock had Howell falling out of the first round completely. Quarterbacks that went ahead of him in this mock included Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Liberty’s Malik Willis.

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