Book, defense help No. 2 Notre Dame beat No. 25 UNC 31-17

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2020, The News & Observer

North Carolina's Jeremiah Gemmell (44) stops Notre Dame's Kyren Williams during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Ian Book kept scrambling to buy time and help No. 2 Notre Dame put together multiple long touchdown drives. The Fighting Irish's defense allowed little room for Sam Howell and No. 25 North Carolina's potent offense to do the same.

Book threw for a score while the Fighting Irish defense locked down the Tar Heels for the final three quarters in a 31-17 victory on Friday. The win kept Notre Dame on course to earn a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Both teams scored two first-quarter touchdowns and went into halftime tied at 17, only to see Notre Dame gradually take over in a performance coach Brian Kelly called "one of those road wins that really shows the mettle of your football team.”

“It felt like it was going to be a shootout in the beginning," said Book, adding: "Our defense did an unbelievable job in the second half and gave us a lot of opportunities, and we were able to capitalize on it."

Book threw for 279 yards and ran for 48 yards for the Fighting Irish (9-0, 8-0 ACC, No. 2 CFP), using his mobility and elusiveness to keep plays alive on a night when both offenses frequently faced long fields.

Receiver Ben Skowronek got Notre Dame its first lead with his 13-yard run around the right side midway through the third quarter. Kyren Williams ran for 124 yards -- including a 47-yarder with about 5½ minutes left as the Irish burned clock.

Williams closed that drive with his second rushing TD, a clinching 1-yarder with 1:20 left that kept the Fighting Irish alone atop the ACC standings ahead of No. 4 Clemson and No. 10 Miami. He also had a 4-yard scoring catch in the first quarter after Book corralled a low snap and scrambled to buy time before finding him on the right side.

More impressive, though, was a defensive effort that forced Howell and the high-scoring Tar Heels to work for every gain after the opening quarter.