Well, that's fitting - a bizarre finish to a bizarre football season.
UNC was dead in the water after blowing a second-half lead against Tennessee and having Dwight Jones drop a pass in the hands on 4th-and-20. The Heels forced a 3-and-out but had the ball at their own 20 with just 31 seconds to play and no time outs. Then the fun began.
T.J. Yates completed a pass for 30 yards to Todd Harrelson, and Tennessee was flagged for a leading-with-the-helmet hit for 15 more yards. Yates then hit Jones for a first down, again getting hit late helmet-to-helmet, but this time there was no call. The Heels next inexplicably called a running play for Shaun Draughn, and then as T.J. Yates was trying to spike the ball, the field goal team was trying to rush onto the field. As a result, UNC had 14 or 15 players as the ball was snapped and spiked and the clock ran to zero. Referee Dennis Lipski of the Big Ten officiating crew called the game over, but replays showed there was in fact one second remaining. UNC was assessed a five-yard penalty for too many men on the field, and Casey Barth calmly drilled a 37-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. (The irony, of course, is that Tennessee lost a game against LSU this season for having too many men on the field, whereas in this case it may have saved the Tar Heels)
After trading touchdowns in the first overtime, senior linebacker Quan Sturdivant intercepted a pass from UT freshman phenom quarterback Tyler Bray, and Barth punched through the game-winner from 23 yards out to give Carolina its first bowl win under Butch Davis and its first overall since 2001.
UNC won the sloppy, penalty-filled game in spite of itself and the atrocious clock management at the end. Yates did not have a stellar final performance, but he was money when it counted. Draughn also capped his career with a fine night, and Ryan Taylor made key catch after key catch. It was simply nice to see the Heels win this sort of game after the heartbreaks particularly in the early season.
Given the injuries, suspensions, and general drama of this season, it is pretty impressive that Carolina ground out eight wins for the third consecutive year. Between a bowl win and two nice basketball wins here at the end of December, maybe we can bid goodbye to the year of hell that was 2010.