The North Carolina Tar Heels won their conference opener against the Pittsburgh Panthers in dramatic fashion at Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday. In the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, everything started going right for UNC. The defense got crucial stops that allowed quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the talented wide receiver corps to put Carolina ahead by one with just two seconds on the clock.
Playing Together and Staying Together
Coach Larry Fedora opened the postgame press conference saying it was a “heck of a game.” That was certainly an understatement. Fedora then spoke about how the Tar Heels stayed together as a team during the game, especially after some early miscues.
I guess the thing I’m most proud about with this football team is that there was never a point in the game when anybody got down, no matter what the situation was. Elijah [Hood] put the ball on the ground on the fourth play of the game. As those guys were coming off, the defense was going on and saying ‘We got your back, don’t worry about it.’ That’s the way it was throughout the entire game no matter what happened.
To complete this type of comeback without that team spirit would be close to impossible. As the season progresses and the stakes get higher, this team needs to be supportive of each other and keep that relentless attitude.
Wide receivers Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, and Austin Proehl came up big on that final drive. Fedora talked about how each brings a special talent to the passing offense. Switzer can make “clutch plays,” Howard is “a big bodied guy who can go up, play up against the rim, and make the catch,” and Proehl is “the best route runner” on the team. Mitch Trubisky’s leadership in the final quarter made the comeback possible, and this is not lost on Fedora:
Everybody on the team knows exactly where he’s going to be all the time. He’s just solid as a rock. I don’t think he even doubted that they’d make the plays.
Trubisky completed 35 of 46 passing attempts, with 453 passing yards, tossing five touchdowns and no interceptions. With numbers like that against a tough ACC opponent, it is going to be a special year for him.
Preparation for the Moment
UNC fans held their breath on the final scoring drive of the game, especially during three fourth downs and when running back Elijah Hood went down at the Pittsburgh two-yard line with less than ten seconds left in the game and no timeouts. This final drive started with Carolina down six with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter, and this team was prepared for those circumstances. Fedora spoke about being ready for late game situations:
We start back in camp with two-minute situations. Then every single week there is some type of scenario that we work against the defense at the end of our practice. We do it if we’ve got to kick a field goal, we do it if we’ve got to score seven, we do it when we’ve got to score eight. Every situation we possibly can.
There is nothing like the real thing, and it helped that the Heels were at home. However, the defense put the offense in a position to win the game. The offensive line gave Trubisky enough time to make good decisions, and clutch catches by Switzer and Proehl on fourth downs led to a successful Howard touchdown reception.
Watch the full interview from Coach Larry Fedora thanks to our friends at Inside Carolina.