CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – The air was crisp at Carter-Finley Stadium. It was filled with anticipation as time slowly, agonizingly ticked off the clock. Five, four, three, two — Sam Howell heaved the pigskin toward the end zone where Tar Heel and Wolfpack players were wrestling for space.

The arms of the fans clad in Red and Black lifted victoriously: intercepted. There were questions then: Would that be his last game in Carolina blue?

That’s not how Sam Howell wanted to go out.

“I didn’t want that N.C. State (game) to be my last game,” North Carolina’s quarterback said. “I’m here for this team and they’re going to get everything that I got in the bowl game.”

No one would have blamed Carolina’s signal-caller for not playing in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. A potential first-round pick in the upcoming 2022 NFL draft, most people he knew actually advised him against it. Howell even knows not playing is a decision that makes sense given the risk and what’s at stake — potentially millions of dollars in draft slot.

Still, he said it’s not the right choice for him.

“Even if it is the best decision for me and my career to opt-out of this game, it’s still not about me,” he explained. “People can say I’m in the position to be selfish and make that decision, but that’s just not who I am. I just want to be here for this team.”

Howell hasn’t decided yet if the game on Dec. 30 will be his last as a Tar Heel. If he has, he’s not sharing that decision quite yet. If it is, it’s a storybook ending for the quarterback who helped reinvigorate North Carolina football, playing his last game in the same city, in the same stadium, and against the same team as his first for UNC.

“I’m super excited. Couldn’t write it any better,” he said. “I’m going back to Charlotte to play South Carolina. It’s just an incredible opportunity.”