If you had been, say, on the moon since the summer and had not seen North Carolina play football this season before today, the Maryland game was a microcosm of the 2012 season in many ways.
There was stellar offensive play by Giovani Bernard, a record-setting performance by Bryn Renner, and a big receiving day by emerging star Quinshad Davis. There was also mind-numbingly bad defense, awful tackling, special teams foibles, a quarter and a half or so where UNC just checked out of the game mentally, and second-half adjustments that stopped the leaks and produced a win.
Carolina jumped on Maryland early, taking the opening kickoff down for a score and following an interception, quickly found paydirt again for a 14-0 lead less than three minutes into the game. But as has been the case frequently this year, UNC took their collective foot off the gas, allowing Maryland to tie the score at 14. The Heels responded with a touchdown drive to retake the lead at 21-14, but then perhaps the weirdest sequence of the season ensued.
Maryland drove 78 yards in less than 3 minutes behind true freshman Shawn Petty, who was doing his best RG3 impression after being moved from linebacker to quarterback just a few weeks ago as the four quarterbacks on the Terps' roster were all hurt. UNC fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Petty tossed a 28-yard touchdown pass to give the Terps the lead just before halftime. On the opening kickoff of the second half, Maryland's Stefon Diggs returned the kick 99 yards for a touchdown and the Terps had scored 21 points in 30 seconds of game time to take a 35-21 lead.
Fortunately at that moment, the Heels decided to wake up. Renner hit Davis for a 50-yard TD pass, and after a Terp 3-and-out, UNC struck again with a 3-play drive that took just over a minute, and just like that, the game was tied. Carolina would add a field goal and a touchdown and clamped down on Maryland in the 3rd quarter, allowing only minus-7 yards in the period. In the 4th quarter, the Terps would drive and add a field goal, but a steady dose of Bernard allowed the Heels to run out the clock and secure the win.
Renner tied a school record with 5 touchdown passes, and Bernard ran for 163 yards and a score while Davis added 9 catches after hauling in an ACC-record 16 last week. Carolina finishes the season 8-4, 5-3 in the ACC and in a 3-way tie for first with Georgia Tech and Miami in the Coastal Division. In a cruel twist of fate, if UNC, Miami, and GT had all been bowl-eligible, the Heels would have held the tiebreaker and gone to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte. But with Miami and UNC both on sanctions, the Yellow Jackets will be the Coastal representative.
Carolina has now won 8 games for the 4th time in 5 seasons (vacated seasons notwithstanding) and the 5 wins in the ACC is the most since 2004. UNC has won 12 home games in the last two years, which is the most in any two-year span in program history. Larry Fedora becomes the 3rd UNC coach to win 8 games in his first season, joining Ray Wolf in 1936 and John Bunting in 2001. All in all, it is hard to consider Fedora's inaugural season in Chapel Hill as anything but a smashing success, as the Heels matched the high-water mark of the Butch Davis era and played exciting football for pretty much the entire season. It will be interesting to see where the team goes from here with a season of Fedora's offensive and defensive schemes under their belt and the cloud of NCAA sanctions lifted.