Larry Fedora got his first taste of the ACC, playing on Tobacco Road and, unfortunately, the culture that has dogged Carolina football for a long time. It may take him three cans of Red Bull to help him swallow all of it.
Sure, the Tar Heels withstood an hour storm delay in a small visitors’ locker room, sat out Giovanni Bernard with a still-sore knee and played with a dinged up center and ding-donged quarterback after Bryn Renner had his bell rung in the second quarter of the 28-27 loss at Wake Forest.
But despite uneven play all afternoon that included eight penalties and a bunch of other miscues, they still had the game in hand and could not finish the job. That has happened to so many Carolina football teams over the last 15 years that the Tar Heels have not won more than eight games in any season since 1997. And, if you watch the NFL, you know how many players they have sent into pro football during that span.
Man, this one was a heartbreaker for a new coach trying to help us forget old reminders. Fedora’s team mangled his mantra by playing not so fast, TOO physical at times and not very smart at all. Hopefully, this can be one giant teaching moment for Fedora and his staff because if you can truly learn from defeat this was the mother lode of losses.
Carolina actually played gallantly for much of the afternoon in Winston–Salem, taking the lead on Eric Ebron’s acrobatic TD catch in the first quarter and shutting down the Deacons for all but the last five minutes of the second half. But when it came down to making the drive-sustaining or drive-stopping plays, the Heels were as imperfect as they looked perfect last week against little ol’ Elon.
In the second quarter, with a 7-point lead, cornerback Jabari Price made a great tackle for loss that set up a third-and-long for the Deacons. Wake’s lefty QB Tanner Price, who proved sensational all day, hit his favorite receiver Michael Campanaro over the middle for a gain that was short of the first down.
The 5-11 Campanaro, Wake Forest’s Wes Welker who finished with 13 catches for 164 yards, begged the officials for a horse-collar penalty on the play and got it. A few downs later, Price picked up a dribbled snap and took the broken play in for the tying touchdown.
The Tar Heels went back in front on a drive, ironically, that could have cost them the game. Renner ran right and a saw a seam to the end zone. But his teammates did not hold their blocks long enough and the Deacons pan caked Renner into what looked like a concussion. He, in fact, waved to the bench for help right after going down. Marquise Williams came in on fourth down and gave it to A.J. Blue for the score. The converted quarterback ran for 106 yards starting for Bernard
After Wake tied the game again, a woozy Renner returned for the next series and while getting hit from behind lost the ball, which Wake turned into a touchdown that provided a 21-14 lead at halftime. The Deacs even obliged the Heels by missing two tries at a field goal as the half ended.
“We really didn’t do anything different at halftime,” a perturbed Fedora said after the game. “It was more of an attitude adjustment. Just go out there and play.”
Play better. And they did, dominating the third quarter with 13 unanswered points and a hundred-yard advantage over the declining Deacs. After freshman Romar Morris, who had 70 yards subbing for Blue, tied the game, the Heels were back in the red zone twice and could only come away with field goals. If either were a touchdown, Wake could not have won.
In fact, after Tim Scott’s interception of Price’s only mistake on the day, the Heels were inside the five when WR Erik Highsmith grabbed the man he was blocking and was called for a holding penalty that pushed Carolina back 10 yards.
So Casey Barth tied his brother Connor for the most FGs in UNC history. When he surpassed him with his next kick, it gave the Tar Heels a six-point lead and their fans who know about Wake Forest at home a stomach ache because the Deacons were still within a touchdown of winning. Wake Coach Jim Grobe has won 61 times on his team’s last two possessions, and he is now 13-2 at home against his three Tobacco Road rivals.
But then came boners that will have Fedora chewing on his Red Bull can, like the facemask penalty that helped Wake keep its 93-yard winning drive going after Tommy Hibbard’s punt and Kevin Reddick’s tackle pinned the Deacs at their own seven with 5 minutes to play.
And, after Wake scored to go ahead, the personal foul penalty on the kickoff that pushed Carolina back from its 25 to its 12½. From the 25, Renner had a decent shot of picking up the 40 or so yards to put Barth in range to try the winner. But in the shadow of his own goal line, Renner was target practice for the blitzing back shirts.
The Tar Heels were good aggressive for much of the game, sending a number of Wake players to the sideline including star nose guard Nikita Whitlock. But they weren’t always fast enough against a confusing Deacons’ defense and, clearly, not smart enough to avoid the critical penalties, missed tackles and botched blocks.
“You can’t cry over it,” Fedora said, “ you’ve just got to get ready for the next one (at 23rd ranked Louisville Saturday) and hope you learn from your mistakes.”
We can cry over this one, coach, because we’ve seen the ending before.