What would have happened if Larry Fedora hadn’t told his team to literally lay down with an 80-20 lead over Old Dominion in a mercy-shortened massacre Saturday at Kenan Stadium?
Well, one more touchdown or even a field goal would have allowed the Tar Heels to surpass the ACC record for points in a game (82). Either/or would have also outscored the UNC basketball team, which posted a hard-fought 82-72 win over Richmond at the Hall of Fame Tip-off Classic up in Connecticut.
And, since the 80 came in the first three quarters, they might well have scored 100 points going into what has become a momentous football game Saturday against Duke with serious implications for both teams. The Blue Devils moved to 9-2 by rallying at Wake Forest and remain the outright leader in the ACC Coastal Division. More on them later.
On an unprecedented day when Carolina football and basketball kicked off and tipped off at exactly the same time, the only place to really eye the whole enchilada was at a sports bar like Tobacco Road, which has dozens of TVs and a technically savvy and accommodating staff.
There, you could have watched the basketball game on ESPN3, streamed from a computer onto the largest screen in the restaurant (streaming reception is far from HD, by the way), and on adjacent flat screens seen Fedora’s fifth straight win and Duke and David Cutcliffe’s seventh straight. Both teams are now bowl eligible in the same season for the first time since 1994, but there is so much more at stake in next week’s regular season finale. More on that later, too.
The juxtaposition of the three games was no less than amazing.
The hoop Heels fought back from an early nine-point deficit against well-regarded Richmond, showing all the aggression on the boards and accuracy at the free throw line (70 percent) and arc (46 percent) that they lacked in the dismal defeat to Belmont last Sunday. Marcus Paige’s 3-point shooting (26 points) and Brice Johnson’s double-double (24-12) highlighted the determined effort, resulting in a chance to play No. 3 Louisville for the Tip-Off championship Sunday at 1 at the Mohegan Sun Resort.
Carolina built a 7-point lead to begin the second half behind a spurt from James Michael McAdoo, just as the football Heels were building a lopsided lead at the end of the first half. Then it got ridiculous in a 31-point third quarter of a football game in which UNC scored a school-record 11 touchdowns (all by freshmen and sophomores), plus a field goal and 11 extra points by Chapel Hill’s Thomas Moore.
This is the absolute truth about two football games that both started at noon: the clocks in Kenan Stadium and Groves Stadium in Winston Salem showed 9:44 at precisely the same moment. Except that Carolina-ODU was in the third quarter, while Duke-Wake Forest was in the fourth. I kid you not, thanks to a 62-point first half that took two hours to play.
For a while, it looked like Duke would be busing over on a loss and as a long shot to reach the ACC title game. But this is not your father’s (or your older brother’s) Duke. Falling behind the Deacons 14-0, the Blue Devils scored and scored fast to tie the game. And their defense looked as improved as the Tar Heels, shutting down Wake Forest in the fourth quarter to complete the 28-21 win that leaves them 5-2 in the ACC and 9-2 overall. Duke hasn’t won 10 games since 1941.
By beating the Tar Heels for the second straight year, Duke can win the Coastal outright and go to Charlotte with a chance to upset Florida State and play in the Orange Bowl. A loss to Carolina would leave the old rivals in a multi-team 5-3 logjam (Fedora’s second tie for first in his two seasons at UNC), and Virginia Tech would likely win the tie-breaker by virtue of its record against the others.
The Hat’s Heels scored on their first play from scrimmage, a flea-flicker from Romar Morris back to Marquise Williams to Quinshad Davis, but they didn’t get rolling until several Old Dominion gambles backfired, allowing Carolina to lead 49-13 at halftime. By then, freshman Ryan Switzer had caught two scoring passes totaling 100 yards from his slot back position, but his team would reach 80 when he returned his fourth punt for a touchdown in the last three games.
Switzer tied an ACC record and is now one TD return from the NCAA single-season mark (don’t you wish his gem at Virginia Tech hadn’t been called back?). He is officially Wes Welker with peach fuzz, and as a 5-10, 175-pound true freshman is still probably anonymous on campus without his helmet and No. 3 on his chest and back.
But when he straps on one of Fedora’s color-coded uniforms, the space between the end zones and sidelines is truly Switzerland. That’s how dangerous and dominating the mighty mite has become with the pigskin in his paws.
Switzer was among a long cast of co-stars – the case when you hang 80 on anyone. Marquise had a school-high 469 of UNC’s record 701 total yards, and five fabulous TD passes. T.J. Logan ran a kickoff back the length of the field and scored twice more from scrimmage. And Quinshad the Quick averaged 31 yards a catch.
It’s tough to tell how good the defense was, except that Old Dominion had put up some impressive offensive numbers on its way to an 8-3 record. The Monarchs, who are headed for Conference USA next year, were so overmatched that the head coaches agreed to begin what would be a scoreless fourth quarter with 10 minutes on the clock instead of the normal 15. When have you ever heard of such a thing beyond Pop Warner football?
With all the reserves in the game and sitting at the ODU 2-yard line, Fedora took a delay penalty on purpose and told quarterback Caleb Pressley to take a knee.
“We’re about winning with class here, not about embarrassing anybody,” Fedora said after winning by 60 in the 100-point game. “There was no reason for us to score again.”
Except that out-pointing the basketball team on the same day and setting a new ACC record would have been nice. But by halftime, who was counting?