Nothing is finer than beating Carolina
Published 5:19 pm Tuesday, November 30, 2021
It was billed as Rivalry Week in college football and a few of those games left fans such as myself begging for more.
Saturday’s “marquee” games were highlighted by the annual war between Michigan and Ohio State; the Iron Bowl featuring Alabama and Auburn; and “Bedlam” (Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State).
But first there was a heated rivalry to play within the Triangle area when UNC paid a visit to Carter-Finley Stadium to meet NC State. This year that game took place on a Friday night. Despite moving it one day earlier than what has been a tradition since 1894 (a 44-0 win by the Tar Heels over an NCSU team then known as the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts), this year’s contest will rank as one of the most thrilling finishes of all time.
Over the course of the rivalry, UNC owns a 68-37-6 record vs. the Wolfpack. Nearly one-half (31) of those wins by the Tar Heels occurred in Raleigh and did you know that of the first six times the two rivals met, NC State did not score a single point? It wasn’t until the 1920 season that the ‘Pack secured its first-ever victory (13-3) over the Tar Heels (the two teams had tied four times – including two straight 0-0 games – between 1899 and 1905).
There would be no scoreless stalemate this past Friday night in Raleigh.
The ‘Pack raced out to a 14-0 lead, but all us NC State fans knew in the back of our minds that UNC coach Mack Brown has “owned us” in the past. Coach Brown’s UNC teams beat State five straight years from 1993-97 and whipped us badly the last two seasons (41-10 in 2019 and 48-21 last year) since Brown came out of retirement to lead the boys in blue.
So, it wasn’t a big surprise when UNC came roaring back behind the play of their outstanding quarterback, Sam Howell, to score 24 unanswered points.
Even when the Wolfpack rallied to within 24-21 inside the final 35 seconds of the third quarter, I still had an uneasy feeling if NCSU had what it takes to beat a Mack Brown team.
They did, but it still didn’t come with a few nail-biting moments.
Hats off to the NC State defense in the fourth quarter. They bent, but didn’t break during a pair of UNC drives that penetrated the red zone. On the first of those drives, UNC had a first-and-goal at the Pack’s 4 yardline, but three straight incomplete passes resulted in a 21-yard field goal and a 27-21 lead for the Tar Heels. I personally thank the UNC offensive coordinator for not calling for Sam Howell to run on any of those three plays.
On their next possession, UNC used just over three minutes to drive 43 yards and settle for a 50-yard field goal and what appeared to be an insurmountable nine-point lead (30-21) with only 2:12 left in the game.
The Wolfpack needed to score, and do so with haste.
Thirty seven seconds later, NCSU quarterback spotted receiver Emeka Emezie running free in the UNC secondary and the two hooked up on a 64-yard touchdown pass, pulling the Pack to within 30-28 with 1:35 left.
Now all the Pack had to do is execute a successful onsides kick.
Mission accomplished when our kicker Chris Dunn – who gave us all heartburn in our overtime win earlier in the season vs. Clemson – booted a roller between a pair of UNC players and then recovered the ball himself! (Note to Chris: you are now back on my list to send a Christmas card).
Now all we needed is a field goal to tie.
That didn’t happen. Rather, we pulled out a win when Emezie outleaped two UNC defenders and grabbed a 24-yard TD pass from Devin Leary with 69 seconds left in the game.
We still had to avoid a meltdown on defense. Carolina managed to drive 45 yards in six plays but Howell’s hail mary pass to the endzone was picked off by NC State defender Derrek Pitts Jr. as time expired.
The win gave us a 9-3 regular season record and polished off our first unbeaten record at home since the 1986 season.
Now the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels (6-6 overall) will wait and to see which locales they will visit for a post-season bowl game.
And as for those other rivalry games that took place on Saturday, Michigan defeated Ohio State (45-27) for only the second time in the past 17 years; Alabama managed to bounce back from a 10-0 deficit on the road to tie the score with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter following a clutch 12-play, 97-yard drive, and then defeated their arch rivals, 24-22, in four overtimes; and Oklahoma State rallied for 13 points in the fourth quarter to defeat Oklahoma, 37-33, in “Bedlam.”
Just another weekend of great college football action across the nation….one highlighted by a personal statement: Nothing is finer than beating Carolina!
Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7207.