Carolina seems to have one game every year were they do this. Last year it was Virginia Tech; the year before Notre Dame. They take on a favored opponent, show a side nobody expects, and take the lead only to let the other guy in late, and rely on fate and defense to escape with the win. This one might be the best yet.
First, we'll recap, in case you missed it. UNC and FSU spent most of the first half exchanging touchdowns, mainly with long strikes at the opposing secondaries. The Heels go into the half down 28-21, after Yates overthrew a wide-open receiver near the end zone. The third quarter goes better for Carolina – they get an early field goal and then after a long strike to Dwight Jones, another touchdown. A second Barth field goal to start the fourth leaves the Heels up six, and after Dustin Hopkins misses a 42-yard kick for FSU, Carolina has only 7:51 left to hold this lead. Easy, right?
No. UNC gets the ball to their 41, but are forced to punt. Or more accurately, attempt a punt, as the snap sails over
Shawn Powell 's C.J. Feagle's head. Way over. Powell chases the ball back to the three, where he attempts to kick the ball out the back of the endzone for a safety, it seeming the best option at the moment. It's not; it is, in fact, illegal, as opposed to the sensible options of attempting a quick punt or better throwing an incomplete pass. FSU gets the ball at the one-and-a-half, and quickly punches it in for the go ahead touchdown.
UNC now has 5:49 to go the length of the field. They get nine yards on two plays from Anthony Elzy, before he's injured. Why is he the running back in the first place? Because UNC has already lost Johnny White and Shaun Draughn to a dislocated shoulder and a turned ankle, respectively. Bring in Hunter Furr, who has 8 yards on 5 carries over the past two years. He's a warm body to block while UNC goes to the air, right?
No. After a pass to Dwight Jones gets the Heels to the FSU 36, Furr rumbles off three straight carries for 27 yards and two first downs. UNC can't get any further than the 4, but that's all they need. Barth hits his third field goal, and with 55 seconds remaining, lead 37-35. They can keep FSU pinned back, right?
No. Greg Reid, who has been fully contained by the UNC special teams all game, returns the kick 50 yards to the UNC 45. The Seminoles are within sniffing distance of field goal range, and Christian Ponder proceeds to connect on three straight passes to move it to the UNC 33. And although Jimbo Fisher's clock management is a little unconventional, there they sit with seven seconds remaining, smack in the center of the field, ready to kick the winning field goal.
And it goes wide right. Again. Dustin Hopkins, whose game began with a kickoff that shanked straight out-of-bounds to give the Heels the ball on their own forty, ends the game in similar fashion. It's the first game he hasn't connected on a field goal this season, and it's the flukiest thing I've seen in quite some time. And UNC wins.
Now give me a moment to breathe again.
OK. Not given nearly enough due in that fourth quarter recap was the play of T.J. Yates and Dwight Jones. The pair connected for 233 yards – that's Jones' third 100+ yard game in the last four – while Yates completed 24 of 35 passes for 439 yards, a career best. And these yards weren't all gained with the typical short outlet passes. He had five that went over twenty yards, the biggest being a 56-yarder to Jones to set up a touchdown. He also had the longest run of his career, with a 18-yard dash that appeared to surprise him as much as the Seminole defense. Running most of their passing plays out of running formations to confuse the defense, UNC struggled at times, but finally wore the defense down in the second half, scoring on four of their five second half drives.
The defense, unfortunately, relied too much on the greased hands of the FSU receivers to keep them in the game. Christian Ponder completed 24 of his 34 passes, but he hit the hands of his teammates much more often than that; there was at least six inexcusable drops. When the Seminoles did get their hands on the ball, they made the UNC secondary pay, getting 264 yards through the air. They also gave up at least one touchdown, when a deep shot was bobbled and caught right outside the back of the endzone; needless to say, there will be a lot of blame to toss around outside of Hopkins, and he didn't ruin the FSU homecoming on his own.
This is just the type of win UNC needed to kickstart their brutal stretch that continues with Virginia Tech and N.C. State, but they'll need to play smarter to keep getting the wins. There were a lot of stupid penalties, including two consecutive whistles for having five players in the backfield, multiple offsides on defense, and a completely inexcusable roughing the passer from Donte Paige-Moss that nullified a terrific interception in the third. But that can't spoil this win, with it's heroics from Hunter Furr, it's chart-topping connections through the air for Yates and Jones, and the nail-biting ending. They beat FSU for only the second time ever, and the first in Doak Campbell. Caroina's a third of the way through this stretch, and they're beginning to cick right when they need to. Next week will tell if they can keep it going against the Hokies.