First up, it's the tenth anniversary of the "T.A. McLendon game" versus NC State. For the uninitiated, the 2004 UNC vs NC State game at Kenan Stadium goes down as one of the more epic tilts between the bitter rivals. UNC led 30-24 with under a minute to go and the Wolfpack on the five yard line. NCSU running back took the handoff and stretch out for the end zone. One official signaled touchdown but the official on the near side said McLendon's knee was down short of the goal line. McLendon's second rushing attempt, this time from the one yard line, was stopped short(McLendon tried to leap over the line) and the Tar Heels won the game. This game, with its controversial ending, is the stuff of rivalries but also offers deeper insight into why a segment of the Wolfpack fan base believe the ACC and officials are out to get them.
Also of interest today, though not an actual anniversary is this piece at Raleigh & Co. discussing the 2008 Saturday night game against UConn. The game was a coming out party of sorts for UNC football which had long suffered under John Bunting but appeared ready to take off under second year coach Butch Davis. Adding to the buzz of the evening, the stadium lights went out in the second half making this one of the more memorable games in recent Kenan Stadium history.
UNC beat then ranked UConn 31-7 and the next week knocked off Notre Dame to move to 5-1 on the season. The only loss to that point was a 20-17 decision against Virginia Tech in a game that saw starting quarterback T.J. Yates leave the contest with a broken ankle. Mike Paulus filled in for Yates and had that deer in the headlights look against the Hokies formidable defense leading to an back breaking interception late in the game.
Despite the loss, UNC was 5-1 with six winnable games to close out the season. Despite this, the Heels went 3-3 to finish the regular season 8-4. The first was a 16-13 loss at Virginia back when UNC was wholly incapable of winning a game in Charlottesville. The Heels were up 10-3 with 2:22 left and Virginia on its own 18 yard line. The Cavaliers eviscerated Everett Withers prevent defense to tie the game up. UNC ended up settling for a field goal in its lone overtime possession then gave up a game winning touchdown.
UNC rebounded with wins over Boston College and Georgia Tech to move to 7-2 on the season and 3-2 in the ACC. The Heels actually controlled their own destiny in the Coastal Division. All UNC needed to do was beat Maryland, NC State and Duke. UNC won just one of those games starting with a 17-15 loss in College Park then the forever inexplicable 41-10 drubbing at the hands of Russell Wilson and NC State. With the Coastal Division lost, the Heels did manage a 28-20 win over Duke before dropping a 31-30 decision to West Virginia in the Tire/Car Care/Belk Bowl for the first of three straight 8-5 seasons under Butch Davis.
Looking back on 2008 now, it's conceivable UNC could have been 9-0 heading to Maryland or at the very least 8-1. The loss to Virginia Tech was part bad luck, part the Hokies being a really good team. The loss to Virginia probably shouldn't have happened all things considered. Of UNC's four regular season losses two of them came against teams(Virginia Tech and Maryland) which won at least eight games. The other two losses were to teams that finished 5-7 and 6-7. In hindsight, UNC was in a perfect position to win at least nine games but couldn't quite get there. At the time that was fine since the Tar Heels were a year ahead of schedule in terms of Davis' rebuilding the program from the Bunting/Torbush days.
Then again, all of the 2008 and 2009 seasons were ultimately vacated so perhaps it all unfolded as it should have.