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What 2007 could have been for North Carolina football

So what you’re saying is, we had a chance.

Boston College v North Carolina Photo by: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The 2007 football season was absolutely bananas. To commemorate the ten-year anniversary of it all, Tar Heel Blog and SB Nation College as a whole look back on a season that made no dang sense.

North Carolina began the 2007 season by scoring the first 24 points in the home opener against James Madison. In retrospect, it would have been nice to sprinkle those points more evenly across the season.

Sporting events often turn on a key play or critical moment. There is a commonly held belief that the last two minutes of a NBA game are the only meaningful part. John Madden would probably say something like, “in football, only the important plays turn out to be important.” That was certainly true in 2007.

A decade ago, the Tar Heels entered a promising season with a new coaching staff and a great deal of young talent. Butch Davis’ arrival in Chapel Hill symbolized the dawn of a new era and a significant step toward returning to gridiron success. The 37-14 season opening win against JMU looked to be a promising omen. TJ Yates’ first college pass on the third play went for a 65-yard touchdown to Brooks Foster and the fiesta was underway.

By Week 2, the party came to a halt. A nip and tuck affair, the game was knotted at 17-17 at the half against East Carolina. Brandon Tate’s punt return touchdown and the two-point conversion tied it at 31 at the end of the third quarter. With less than a minute to play, UNC bobbled the snap on a field goal attempt that would have provided the lead. Instead, ECU took advantage of the miscue and kicked a 39-yard field goal as time expired to win. The successful kick was unlikely considering Pirate kicker Ben Harman had missed three field goals during the game. Two key plays in the final minute and UNC lost 34-31.

The following week against Virginia started a bad trend. Down 16-0 early, UNC battled back by holding Virginia to five field goals and only one touchdown. A touchdown pass from Yates to Richard Quinn brought the score to 22-20 with under two minutes to play. The comeback was thwarted, however, when the two-point conversion pass was knocked down. UNC moved to 1-2 overall.

A beat down at #24 South Florida (37-10) left the Heels reeling going in to Blacksburg in Week 5. Just like the Virginia game, a big deficit was overcome only to see the effort come up short. UNC trailed 17-3 to start the fourth quarter but an Anthony Elzy touchdown narrowed the lead to 7. The final drive ended just inside midfield and Virginia Tech won 17-10.

Week 6 was the oasis in the desert; the cold Coors Light floating in the lukewarm cooler of Beast. Light. Ice. If anyone said they saw the home win over Miami coming after four straight weeks of disappointment, they should have been institutionalized. More on the victory over Miami (33-27) to come.

The following week brought a highly ranked South Carolina team to Kenan Memorial Stadium. Stop me if you’ve heard this before; a big early deficit (21-3 at the half) is narrowed with a valiant late comeback. Two fourth quarter touchdowns cut the lead to 21-15 with just over three minutes remaining. Following a missed South Carolina field goal, the Heels were back in business and moved quickly to the Gamecock 31 yard line before the clock expired. UNC had a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a failed two-point conversion in the game, which meant six points left on the table in a six-point loss (21-15).

The Heels did not lose in Week 8. They had a bye. They apparently also thought they had a bye in Week 9 at Wake Forest where the Demon Deacons rolled 37-10. The return home against Maryland yielded a close 16-13 win.

Week 11 was a trip to NC State. Yet another early deficit (17-0 early and 24-10 at the half) begat another UNC comeback. Seventeen straight points in the second half got Carolina out to a 27-24 lead with under 10 minutes left. State scored on a short field following a fumble recovery with under two minutes remaining and once again UNC was down to its last drive. This time, UNC made it all the way to the NC State 7 yard line before running out of time and downs in the 31-27 loss. For the game, Carolina scored touchdowns on two interception returns and a trick play but it was not enough.

The trip to Atlanta was eerily similar. Down 17-9 entering the fourth quarter, UNC reeled off 16 straight points to take a 25-24 lead with under six minutes remaining. The Yellow Jackets missed a field goal with under three minutes left but held UNC to a three and out. Georgia Tech then “rambled” down the field and kicked a field goal with 18 seconds remaining to take a 27-25 lead. UNC had one final chance but Connor Barth’s 63-yard field goal attempt was blocked on the final play.

The game for the Victory Bell concluded the season. The Heels got out to an early 7-0 lead before the trench warfare began. A low scoring tie game ran into the fourth quarter when Duke scored to go ahead 14-7. Carolina evened it up after a long drive with just over seven minutes remaining. Duke missed a field goal as time expired (even though they prematurely doused Coach Ted Roof with ice water). UNC won 20-14 in overtime on a Greg Little rushing touchdown.

North Carolina finished the 2007 campaign at 4-8 in a “what could have been” season. Two of the losses were by wide margins but the other six totaled only a 24-point deficit. Those first 24 points against JMU would have helped in a fantasy world where points can be spread throughout the year. Most of the losses turned on a key late play or a failed final drive. At 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the Coastal, UNC would have won the division and played Matt Ryan and the #10 Boston College Eagles in the ACC Championship game.

Of course, aside from JMU, the other three wins were by a total of 15 points and could have easily gone the other way. Perhaps karma felt guilty.