UNC’s Moral Victory

September 5, 2010

UNC almost pulls off upset

Before No.18 North Carolina boarded the team plane for Atlanta to play No. 21 LSU, critics nationwide had written the Tar Heels off. Pundits from San Diego to South Beach declared that UNC didn’t stand a chance given the 13 suspensions handed down late last week amidst accusations of cheating and an illegal agent benefit scandal. The Tar Heels headed into Saturday night’s Kick-Off Classic missing the heart and soul of their football team. Starting defensive tackle Marvin Austin, wide receiver Greg Little, and running back Shaun Draughn were amongst the 11 missing starters that did not dress nor join the team on the sidelines of the Georgia Dome. With a stroke of luck, many felt that the Tar Heels would at least keep the game within 3 touchdowns. However, as has been shown time and time again, the outcome of football games is not decided on air-waves or in newspapers, but rather on the field by the men playing the game.

The 2010 Kick-Off Classic was a game of two halves. The LSU Tigers dominated he first half of the game, hanging 30 points on the depleted UNC defense. The Tar Heels looked overwhelmed from the opening kick-off. In their first 2 offensive possessions, the team committed 2 turnovers. For all intents and purposes, the Heels seemed to be deflated and over-matched.

By halftime in the Georgia Dome, it looked as if Les Miles would pull his starters after the first couple drives in the third quarter. The Tigers had a commanding 20 point cushion and the game was unfolding  the way most everyone outside of the biggest North Carolina fans believed it would. It’s unclear as to what was said by head coach Butch Davis in the UNC locker room at halftime, but whatever it was should be written down and placed in the North Carolina Hall of Fame building on campus. North Carolina came out a different team in the second half. The same Tar Heel defense that was missing 7 starters grew up before everyone’s eyes in Atlanta. They shutdown the potent LSU offense in the second half.

After a vanilla offensive third quarter, the Tar Heels started their first fourth quarter drive with fireworks. Pinned with his back to his endzone, QB T.J. Yates found WR Jheranie Boyd for a 97 yard touchdown strike, making the game  30-17 with a little under 11 minutes left. With newfound hope, the UNC defense held tight and did not allow the LSU offense to reach the goal line, limiting them to only 2 offensive possessions in the fourth quarter. With 4:51 to go in the game, Yates connected with WR Erik Highsmith for a 14 yard touchdown, making the game 30-24. With momentum on their side, the Heels attempted an onside kick and recovered it. On the ensuing drive, the Heels gained one first down and were forced to try to convert on 4th down. LSU called a corner blitz which resulted in Yates fumbling, giving LSU the ball with 1:29 left in the game. With only two timeouts, and the Tigers in field goal position, UNC’s valiant comeback attempt looked to fall just short. Facing third and five, LSU rushed RB Stevan Ridley up the middle. Much to the disbelief of everyone watching, Ridley fumbled the ball. UNC recovered the loose ball making it first and ten at their 27 yard line. It looked as if fate had decided that UNC was to win the game. Cool and collected, T.J. Yates engineered an 80 yard drive, giving the Tar Heels the ball at LSU’s 7 yard line with less than 10 seconds remaining on the clock. The Tar Heels gave it all they could but failed to put the game away after a Yates pass for TE Zack Pianalto was broken up at the goal line as time expired.

During the post-game coverage on ABC, play-by-play analyst Brent Musburger said: “LSU did not win, they survived”. Truer words could not have been spoken to describe what was witnessed in the Georgia Dome. With their back to the wall, and with no one giving them a chance, UNC defied the odds and nearly pulled off what would have been one of the biggest upsets of the year in college football. Although the scoreboard shows different, UNC was the true winner of the game. The Heels and Butch Davis reminded everyone that never can you count out a team with heart and character. Zack Pianalto, Yates’s target on the final play of the game, expressed his pleasure with how his team performed considering the suspensions: “We have a team of fighters, we played hard the whole game. That last drive was tremendous.” Butch Davis had the following to say about his team’s performance: “I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a group of kids. The way they fought to get themselves back into the ballgame. We didn’t play very well in first half. We made so many mistakes in [the] kicking game, we really put ourselves in a hole. But one thing that defines your character and your guts is your ability to compete.”

North Carolina has nothing to hang their heads in shame about. With or without the suspended Tar Heels, future opposing ACC teams better not count out this team.

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