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UNC Football: Kenan Under the Lights

A look back at previous night games in Chapel Hill.

North Carolina State v North Carolina
T.A. McLendon #44 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack fumbles on the goal line with six seconds remaining against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels during an Atlantic Coast Conference game on October 9, 2004 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 30-24.
Photo By Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Anticipation is growing for tonight’s primetime matchup against Miami. Earlier this week, it was announced that the game would be a sellout. Combine that with renewed fan optimism in the team, revamped game day festivities, a tough divisional opponent, and the first legal alcohol sales in the stadium, and my goodness, tonight has all the makings of an epic evening in Kenan Memorial Stadium.

There has always been a special aura when outdoor sporting events have occurred under the lights. The first night game at Wrigley on 8/8/88. The (previous) rarity of such an event at Notre Dame Stadium. “One Hot Night” back in 1992 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Whatever the occasion, on nights like this, the players have a quicker step, the coaches are bit more amped, and the fans are a touch louder.

We’ve seen a few night games in Chapel Hill throughout the years, some memorable and some forgettable, moments and games within the pines.

Here is a bit of history on lights at Kenan via the UNC football media guide:

The 1983 season saw another first in the stadium — a game played under artificial lights. The Carolina-Duke game was played in the late afternoon so it could be televised throughout the ACC area. Portable lights were brought in because the second half was played after sunset. Portable lights were also used in the 1987 Clemson game which was televised nationally by ESPN. The 1991 season opener versus Cincinnati and that season’s Clemson game, which was televised nationally by ESPN, were the first true night games ever played at Kenan Stadium.

Take a look below at the all-time UNC record at Kenan in night games:

Night Games at Kenan Memorial Stadium

Date Time Opponent Score Notes
Date Time Opponent Score Notes
10/13/2018 7:00 PM Virginia Tech L 19-22
10/17/2015 7:00 PM Wake Forest W 50-14
9/12/2015 6:00 PM NC A&T W 53-14 Home opener
10/18/2014 7:00 PM Georgia Tech W 48-43
9/6/2014 8:00 PM San Diego State W 31-27 Ranked No. 21
8/30/2014 6:00 PM Liberty W 56-29 Season opener, ranked No. 23
10/17/2013 7:45 PM No. 10 Miami L 23-27 Zero Dark Thursday
10/22/2009 8:00 PM Florida State L 27-30 First Thursday night game at Kenan
9/5/2009 6:00 PM The Citadel W* 40-6 Season opener, ranked No. 21, win vacated
10/4/2008 7:00 PM No. 23 Uconn W* 38-12 Win vacated
8/30/2008 6:05 PM McNeese State W* 35-27 Season opener, win vacated
9/1/2007 6:00 PM James Madison W 37-14 Season opener
9/16/2006 7:00 PM Furman W 45-42
9/17/2005 7:00 PM Wisconsin L 5-14 Home opener
10/30/2004 7:00 PM No. 4 Miami W 31-28
10/9/2004 6:00 PM NC State W 30-24
9/18/2004 6:00 PM Georgia Tech W 34-13
8/30/2003 8:00 PM No. 13 Florida State L 0-37 Season opener
9/14/2002 8:00 PM No. 3 Texas L 21-52 Mack Brown's first trip to Chapel Hill after taking the Texas job
10/21/2000 5:30 PM No. 5 Clemson L 24-38
9/23/2000 6:00 PM Marshall W 20-15
9/2/2000 6:00 PM Tulsa W 30-9 Season opener
9/26/1998 7:30 PM Georgia Tech L 21-43
9/5/1998 6:00 PM Miami (OH) L 10-13 Season opener, ranked No. 12
11/8/1997 7:30 PM No. 3 Florida State L 3-20 ESPN CollegeDay on campus, ranked No. 5, only loss that season
9/13/1997 6:00 PM No. 17 Stanford W 28-17 Ranked No. 7
10/12/1996 7:00 PM Maryland W 38-7 Ranked No. 13
9/2/1995 7:30 PM Syracuse L 9-20 Season opener, ranked No. 20
9/3/1994 7:00 PM TCU W 27-17 Season opener, ranked No. 18
9/4/1993 7:00 PM Ohio W 44-3 Home opener
9/19/1992 7:00 PM Army W 22-9
9/12/1992 7:00 PM Furman W 28-0 Home opener
11/9/1991 7:30 PM No. 15 Clemson L 6-21
9/14/1991 7:00 PM Cincinnati W 51-16 First true night game at Kenan

Overall record: 19-12

Conference record: 6-8

Record versus ranked teams: 2-6

Record as ranked team: 5-3

Record in home opener: 4-1

Record in season opener: 4-3

The three wins in 2008 and 2009 were vacated and not included in these records.


Looking through this list, there are several game that stick out in the history of North Carolina Tar Heels football.

Judgement Day - No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 5 North Carolina - November 8, 1997

In arguably the most important game in Tar Heels history, the fifth ranked Tar Heels hosted #3 Florida State in what was billed as Judgement Day. It was to determine which team would win the ACC and who was put on the path to the Bowl Alliance Championship.

ESPN brought College GameDay to town and Kenan was packed to standing-room only at 62,000, the largest ever crowd in Chapel Hill.

Through the first eight games of the season, the offense was averaging nearly 30 points per game while the defense was allowing just over 12 points per game.

The team was packed with Tar Heel legends on both sides of the ball, including Dré Bly, Greg Ellis, Vonnie Holliday, Jonathan Linton, Jeff Saturday, Brian Simmons, Robert Williams, Kivuusama Mays, Alge Crumpler, and Omar Brown.

However, on Judgement Day, the Heels were deemed not ready for the big stage.

The offense was held to just 73 yards of total offense. This was the last time the Heels were held to less than 100 yards of offense. In the third quarter, starting quarterback Oscar Davenport broke his ankle and was finished for the season.

The Tar Heels lost 20-3.

The Heels ended the season 11-1 and Mack Brown took the job at Texas prior to the bowl game.


The First Return of the Mack - No. 3 Texas vs. North Carolina - September 14, 2002

It was the first and only time Mack Brown returned to Chapel Hill as the head coach of Texas.

The previous season under first-year head coach John Bunting, Carolina traveled to Austin to face their old coach in the first in a home-and-home series.

The 2002 season marked the effective end of the Brown-Torbush era in Chapel Hill as Julius Peppers, Ronald Curry, Ryan Sims, and Quincy Monk departed after the 2001 season.

The Tar Heels faced the Longhorns in the third game of the season, and while UNC had some talent on offense with the likes of Darian Durant and Sam Aiken, the defense was abysmal.

The Carolina defense ended up allowing 35.1 points per game that season and poor Dexter Reid at free safety had to carry the load. His 166 tackles that season are the second most in a single season in UNC history. The rest of the top 10 on that all-time list are linebackers.

The Tar Heels had some fight that evening, recovering from a 24-point deficit to pull within 10 points twice in the second half.

The opening score of the second half by UNC remains in the record books today. Jason Brown’s fumble recovery in the end zone was the last time UNC scored a touchdown in the manner and the last Carolina offensive lineman to score a touchdown.

The Tar Heels lost 52-21.


The Fumble - NC State vs. North Carolina - October 9, 2004

The 2004 schedule was one of the toughest in recent memory for Carolina. The Heels faced seven ranked teams that year. However, UNC was rewarded with three night games in Kenan. These were three wins for UNC, and two of them were all-time classics for Heels.

State was riding a two-game winning streak against Carolina after coming off eight losses in the previous nine seasons, including seven straight from 1993 to 1999.

Carolina held a 13-6 lead at the half, but State posted 10 unanswered points in the third quarter to capture the lead.

The Tar Heels responded in the fourth quarter and did so off the mistakes of the Wolfpack to go up by 11.

The final offensive drive for UNC stalled inside the NCSU 10 and Carolina was forced to settle for the field goal for a six-point lead.

The Wolfpack marched nearly 80 yards down the field in the final four minutes and seemed destined to take home the win.

At the two-yard line on 3rd and goal, there was confusion among the officials if NC State running back T.A. McLendon crossed the plane. One official signaled touchdown, but there was disagreement between the refs.

After conferring (and probably receiving a directive from the ACC Commissioner’s Office via the power of telepathy), it was decided that McClendon was down and NCSU would have 4th and goal from the one.

Defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell then recorded his only hit of the game and the rest was history.

Connor Barth set the UNC freshman record for longest field goal in that game with his 50-yarder in the first quarter. His three field goals that game is tied for a freshman record.


The Kick - No. 4 Miami vs. North Carolina - October 30, 2004

Miami and Virginia Tech joined the ACC in the summer of 2004. These two football schools sought to shift the balance of power away from Florida State. The Seminoles had won outright or captured a share of the conference football title in 12 of their first 13 seasons in the ACC.

After the big win against NC State, Carolina went to Salt Lake City to face the No. 11 Utes and the Heels got it handed to them, 46-16.

The Hurricanes were undefeated when they traveled to Chapel Hill to face the 3-4 Tar Heels.

With an extra week to prepare, UNC came out ready to battle and after a strong second quarter in which they did not allow a Miami score, the Heels took 21-14 lead to the locker room.

Darian Durant and Chad Scott were workhorses for the Heels, especially in the second half. Scott ended with 175 yards rushing, the most of any Tar Heel in a single game during the 2004 season.

In the final drive with the score knotted at 28, Durant led Carolina 55 yards down the field. He completed all four of his pass attempts and lined freshman kicker Connor Barth up for the final play with four seconds on the clock... and he was automatic.

It was pandemonium in Kenan as the Tar Heels knocked off Miami for their first-ever win over a top five opponent.


Zero Dark Thursday - No. 10 Miami vs. North Carolina - October 17, 2013

The second Thursday night game in Kenan coincided with the debut of the first all-black jersey in program history.

The Tar Heels were 1-4 and were in desperate need of a victory to salvage the season.

In a shootout that saw over 1,000 yards of total offense combined by both teams, the Heels managed to hold a 17-13 lead at halftime.

However, in the second half, Carolina had to settle for two field goals instead of touchdowns after reaching the Miami 18 and 4 yard lines.

Clinging to a three-point lead with four minutes to go, the Hurricanes drove 90 yards down the field and scored a touchdown with 16 second in the game to secure the 27-23 victory.

Eric Ebron set the UNC record for most receiving yards in a game by a tight end with 199 yards.


I have attended several of these night games, including Texas, NC State, and Zero Dark Thursday, and will be present tonight for hopefully another classic that the Heels come out on top for.

Have you attended any of these games? Any of the classics? Share your memories in the comments below.