RALEIGH, NC – There have been a lot of disappointing losses in North Carolina’s 133-year football history. The 66-0 loss to Virginia in 1912, which is the biggest loss margin on the books. The 41-7 beating by Oklahoma in 1980 when the Tar Heels were ranked No.6 nationally and contested for the national title. The 28-3 home loss to Furman in 1999. The 28-27 loss to Duke in 2016 that killed any hope of a return visit to the ACC Championship game.
For most Carolina fans, however, there is one loss that surpasses the rest: the 20-17 loss to Virginia in 1996. The Tar Heels, sixth, who were on course for a Bowl Alliance berth, led. 17-3 in the fourth quarter and had the ball inside the Cavaliers’ 10-yard line when Chris Keldorf’s pass was intercepted and returned 96 yards for a touchdown by Antawn Harris. This game turned the momentum around and Virginia rallied for the upset victory, burning the agony of defeat into the hearts of the Tar Heel devotees.
The match that had no equal for so many fans may have been usurped on Friday night at Carter-Finley Stadium, 25 years and 10 days later. It may take time for the significance of the loss of 34-30 for the NC State to be recorded, although the collapse of UNC was as dramatic as it was expedient. If there was a heavy sense of doom in the final 10 minutes at Scott Stadium, there was a shocking suddenness surrounding Raleigh’s collapse.
Grayson Atkins’ 50-yard basket barely scratching the crossbar gave UNC a 30-21 lead with 2:12 remaining and the Tar Heel sideline erupted with emotion, celebrating a victory that would ultimately never happen. Perhaps Caroline lost her temper at that point, unable to regain the discipline and focus that had fueled her 30-7 charge over the previous three quarters.
College football teams leading by nine or more points with less than 2.5 hours left this season were 451-0 by Friday night, according to ESPN. After Ray Vohasek sacked Devin Leary for an eight-yard loss in NC State’s first play of his penultimate record with two minutes remaining, UNC’s odds of victory rose to 99.9 percent. Then everything went wrong.
A broken cover in the high school allowed Leary to find a wide-open Emeka Emezie sprinting down the left sideline for a 64-yard touchdown pass. The UNC hand team misplayed the ensuing in-play kick, allowing the kicker to recover the ball at the 46-yard line.
“What got us to lose the game was the kick in play,” senior linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel said after the loss. âAnd it’s weird because I feel like we’re working on the side kicks and getting them back and then the kicks, back and forth, I feel more than most teams. And they got us in. They got a perfect kick to the side and they got the ball back.
Three penalties for 35 yards – in the space of four successive snaps – against the Tar Heels moved the Wolfpack into the end zone, where Leary found Emezie at the left pylon for a 24-yard touchdown and a 34-30 lead. .
A lot can happen in 26 seconds. UNC had a two-possession lead and was already shoveling dirt atop NC State’s Atlantic Division title and ACC Championship game prospects. Two touchdowns later, the Tar Heels wondered how a regular season that started with a domestic Top 10 ranking could end with a .500 record and an epic meltdown on the field of its rival.
âI just told the team that we have to finish,â said Brown. “That’s all it is. We have to make the plays they made in the home stretch. We have to be more mature and we can ‘We did everything you could do wrong with two minutes. remaining so as not to end the match. “
The Tar Heels are currently alone in fifth place in the ACC Coastal Division standings, looking at two teams they’ve beaten and two more they probably should have beaten. Friday night was the opportunity to approach the playoffs on a positive note. Instead, it was more of the same as UNC was forced to watch their opponent make the necessary plays to win.
Brown spoke this week about the relevance of the rivalry, with fans from both schools scattered throughout the Triangle and beyond. As in most rivalries, the bragging rights remain in place for an entire year, a few days more or less. This game, however, will serve as a defining moment in the UNC-NC state rivalry for years to come, a snippet from the highlight reel to explain to future generations why this showdown means so much to so many people.