CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina started the second half with an interception return for a touchdown and secured the win with a last-second fumble recovery. In between, the Tar Heels did just enough to beat Notre Dame for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Cameron Sexton scored on a leaping four-yard keeper to start the fourth quarter and Quan Sturdivant had the momentum-changing 32-yard interception return to help the No. 22 Tar Heels beat the Fighting Irish, 29-24, on Saturday for another boost to Coach Butch Davis' rebuilding effort.
The Tar Heels (5-1), off to their best start since going 8-0 in 1997, beat the Irish (4-2) for the first time since 1960.
Hakeem Nicks had nine catches for 141 yards and freshman walk-on Casey Barth kicked three field goals, helping North Carolina rally from an 11-point first-half deficit.
The Tar Heels' offense failed to reach the end zone in the first half while their defense struggled to slow Jimmy Clausen and the Notre Dame passing game. But their knack for forcing turnovers -- four after halftime -- was enough to help them hang on in a game that came down to a wild finish.
"It takes everybody buying in," Davis said. "Our kids have got a lot of fight, a lot of perseverance and keep scratching to try and find a way to win."
North Carolina came in ranked for the first time in seven years, and playing at home as a ranked team for the first time in a decade, a sign of how badly things have gone since Mack Brown departed for Texas after the '97 season.
It was also Notre Dame's first game in the state of North Carolina since unheralded sophomore Joe Montana led a comeback win here in 1975.
The teams certainly provided a memorable finish, with Notre Dame reaching the North Carolina seven-yard line in the final seconds before officials ruled -- after a review -- that receiver Michael Floyd fumbled the ball in what appeared to be a frantic attempted lateral. Trimane Goddard recovered for North Carolina with three seconds left.
Clausen threw for a career-best 383 yards -- his third straight career best -- and touchdowns to Golden Tate and Floyd that helped the Irish take a 17-9 halftime lead.