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The Debate: What if these two pivotal calls in UNC history went the other way?

What terrible officiating call has had the most impact for the Tar Heels?

North Carolina State v Syracuse

Welcome to The Debate. We are back! Perhaps it is the desert of content that a no sports off-season brings, but our editors saw fit to green light another summer. As season 2 of this article kicks off, those who took the over are winners.

Each week, this article presents a topic for debate. Whether in the comments section, on the golf course, or around the weekend game table (with proper social distancing of course), the goal is to provide enough background that either side could be a winner. In order to facilitate the discourse, a suggested beverage pairing is also included. So speak up, mix it up, and drink up.

This has been “what if week” here at Tar Heel Blog as well as across SB Nation. We have had excellent articles on football tweets, the NCAA academic investigation, the flu, and the length of Roy Williams’ tenure. Keeping with the “what if” theme, I am going to turn to my favorite thing to do when the Heels lose: blame the refs. I recognize that the Heels get their fair share (and perhaps more) of the good calls from time to time. There have, however, been some bad calls that have been absolutely history altering.

The Debate for the week of May 15: Which call was the most impactful to UNC’s season?

Point: December 15, 2015 - ACC Championship - The offsides call.

This was a program break through in the making for the Tar Heels. After years of mediocrity, fourth year head coach Larry Fedora was dominating with the offense. First year defensive coordinator Gene Chizik remade what had recently been a lacking side of the ball and at least kept the Heels competitive.

Carolina opened the 2019 campaign with a loss to South Carolina. At the time, it seemed like a close defeat. By the end of the year, the Gamecocks had imploded and it was considered a horrible loss. From there, however, the Heels went on a run and won 11 in a row including a perfect 8-0 record in the Coastal. They slowly crept up the rankings and by the time the ACC Championship game arrived, Carolina was 10th in the playoff rankings. They played against number 1 ranked Clemson.

Carolina moved the ball early but gave up the halftime lead on a last second touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson. The 21-16 halftime deficit, however, was much closer than many thought the game would be. Clemson came out firing in the third quarter with a couple of touchdowns to stretch the lead to to 35-16. An exchange of touchdowns gave Clemson a 42-23 lead with under 12 minutes left to play.

Then it was time for Marquise Williams and the Heels to bring it. Back to back big completions were capped off with an Elijah Hood 2-yard run for the touchdown. 42-30. A three-and-out forced a Clemson punt but Williams fumbled when sacked 7 plays later and Clemson recovered. While the Tar Heel defense held Clemson to a field goal, the four-minute drive put the Tigers up 45-30 with just over 2 minutes remaining.

The Heels then drove the field in 6 plays and just over 1 minute. Ryan Switzer caught a Williams pass in the end zone and the score stood at 45-37 with one minute remaining.

Then came the play.

Carolina executed a perfect onside kick and recovered at midfield. Down 8 with a minute to play, three timeouts, and all the momentum. Wait, there is a flag on the field. What? Replays clearly show that no one was within a yard of the line of scrimmage. Bad call. Bad bad call.

Had that play been officiated correctly, Carolina had a legitimate shot to tie the game and force overtime. Clemson was tired at that point. A win, and the Heels may have made the playoff. Instead, the flag cost them the game and a shot at proving the Coastal was no fluke.

Counterpoint: April 4, 2016 - NCAA Championship - A hop, skip, and a jump.

Perhaps the poorest officiated half of basketball I have ever seen. My view at the time was that Carolina was being penalized for having the tallest players. That is still my view. Handchecks on Carolina called as fouls. Shoves on Villanova viewed as play-ons. Unwilling to let the players decide the game, the officials decided they would be the stars.

An uncharacteristically hot night from three had Carolina up 39-34 at the half. The fouls then ran to a quick three on the Heels with the mugging Wildcats being called for nothing and the lead shrank to three. Those calls turned the momentum and by the eight minute mark, Villanova held a seven point lead.

After more Carolina fouls, the lead grew to 10 with just over five minutes remaining. By the time Brice Johnson scored with a minute remaining, Carolina had trimmed the lead to one, 70-69.

Perhaps you do not think Phil Booth walked. Maybe you are blind to the rules of college basketball. Maybe you think step, step, step again is not a walk. Maybe you think that Isaiah Hicks mysteriously created a foul with his invisible third arm. I don’t think any of that happened.

Instead of down one with the ball, the Heels were down three. Baloney, plain and simple. A lot of college basketball happened in that last minute, but those two points clearly changed the course of the game.

As an aside, they may have also changed the course of Carolina basketball. Without that loss, maybe Justin Jackson doesn’t return and maybe 2017 is not the same. Maybe 2019 is not the same. What ifs can be tricky that way.

What about football? With a win, would Larry Fedora have gotten more recruits and earned more time at the helm?

My favorite quote of the what-if realm is from Charlie Wilson’s War:

Gust Avrakotos : There’s a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse... and everybody in the village says, “How wonderful. The boy got a horse” And the Zen master says, “We’ll see.” Two years later, the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, “How terrible.” And the Zen master says, “We’ll see.” Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight... except the boy can’t cause his legs all messed up. and everybody in the village says, “How wonderful.”

Charlie Wilson : Now the Zen master says, “We’ll see.”

Be careful with your what ifs.

Time for you to decide! Was the biggest what if call the non-offsides or the three step boogie? Have an alternative option; post it in the comments.

Drink Pairing

In need of encouragement to debate – If you have not tried Larceny, you are missing out. All bourbon fans, or even people interested in trying bourbon because they are bored from being stuck at home, should try Larceny. For the price, it is the best there is. Drink it with a splash of ginger ale on ice (and only Seagram’s, the alternative is horrible).

Can debate without assistance who can debate without assistance these days? Its Friday after all. Fine, go with the Seagram’s ginger ale and cranberry. Fun and fizzy.