Just call me a ‘Tar-Packer’ for this game

Published 11:07 am Monday, November 26, 2018

I know where I’ll be around noon today (Saturday); sprawled out on the couch with a turkey sandwich, a bowl of turkey soup, and for dessert, a little sweet potato pie a la mode.

What’s the occasion? It’s the 108th meeting on the football field of NC State and UNC.

Okay, it’s not the Aggie-Eagle Classic (a shout-out to the great tradition of the NC A&T- NC Central rivalry game), and no, it’s not Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, or even Army-Navy, but as rivalries go, this one’s always pretty special.

The Pack and Heels have locked horns – or clashed claws and hooves, if you prefer – 107 previous times. While my Tar Heels have been on the losing end three of the last four years, they do hold a 66-35-6 winning margin over the Wolfpack.

But who really cares about this rivalry?

Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and the rest of ESPN’s College Game Day gang won’t be there, but there are plenty of folks who have enough time vested in the rivalry along Tobacco Road to have a deep interest in Saturday’s game.

NC State can ill afford to stub its paw like it did against Wake Forest. That loss probably eliminated any fleeting ‘New Year’s Six’ bowl game hope still alive in West Raleigh. Games like that help explain why the Pack football program has an overall record just a shade over 500.

As for Carolina, Saturday is Senior Day and for a 2-8 team, this is as close to a bowl game as the ol’ Blue will get this year, all wrapped into one game. In a season that has produced only a couple of wins, only one in the ACC, this is a chance to end on a high note and break a two-game losing streak to State.

A win could also be a saving grace for Tar Heel coach Larry Fedora. In a twist of fate, do you remember back two years ago when Dave Doeren came to Kenan Stadium needing a win to save his job? At least that’s what he alluded to at his pre-UNC press conference.

The Wolfpack won that game 28-21. “Probably saved my job winning that game,” Doeren said this week. “I wouldn’t be standing here (at his press conference) had I not won that game.”

Would a win over the Wolfpack secure Larry Fedora’s job? No one but athletic director Bubba Cunningham really knows how ‘hot’ the seat is under Fedora’s underpants. Cunningham has just said he’ll make an evaluation of the program and a decision at the end of the season.

Fedora is 6-20 in his last 26 games: four wins against FCS teams and two against Pitt; who’s never won over UNC during the Panthers’ ACC existence.

While there’ll be plenty of ‘Blue howling’ for Fedora’s head, Cunningham will examine the record, the multiple injuries the last two years, and the suspensions of players for selling their Jordan brand shoes. He’ll also shake out the numbers in recruiting that came in the face back then of NCAA probation; and finally, he’ll crunch those numbers to see if there’s room for some financial apathy.

In other words, those critically vital big checks from donors, and whether the lack of ticket sales has dipped too far.

And probably the biggest money question: can the school take a $12 million hit for a football buyout? If it’s basketball, it’s easier, but 12 mill is no chump-change no matter how you cut it.

But rather than worry about that, I’ll be remembering Lou Holtz matching coaching wits with the late Bill Dooley, Monte Kiffin’s onside kick to start the third quarter that blew up in his face, David Hartman’s field goal from 56 yards as time ran out (Gary Hahn’s first great NC State radio call!), T.A. McClendon’s fumble (or was it!?!), Russell Wilson winning the ‘Big Game’ twice (it’s why I won’t root for him to this day!), and many, many more.

This year? Hopefully, another one to remember, and I’ll be there in front of the TV Saturday to see it unfold.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.