RALEIGH—The atmosphere was electric inside Carter-Finley Stadium, but Carolina spoiled the Homecoming hopes of the crowd with a 27-19 road win to improve to 3-5 on the season and 2-3 in the ACC. NC State dropped to 3-5 overall and 0-5 in conference play.
The wolf howls were echoing throughout the raucous stadium as the Tar Heels received the kickoff to open the contest between 2-5 UNC and 3-4 N.C. State.
The opening drive for Carolina was woeful. Bryn Renner hung out a ball that was easily picked off by a hungry Wolfpack defender. And just like that, NC State was in prime position to draw first blood.
Brandon Mitchell trotted out onto the field to lead the Wolfpack. And he took the ball in his hands with a couple of quarterback keepers to bash the ball inside the Carolina 10-yard line.
And a few plays later, Mitchell waltzed into the end zone untouched to put the Wolfpack ahead 7-0 to the delight of the fans in attendance.
Carolina’s next try with the ball nearly ended in more disaster with Ebron fumbling the ball, but recovering it in the nick of time.
And the series was halted by a sack of Renner. The punt unit was forced on the field for the Tar Heels.
Mitchell delivered a clean ball to a wide open receiver to move the chains and start another assault on the Carolina defense. It was clear that N.C. State’s game plan was to run the ball over and over again in Mitchell’s hands. It was working.
The Carolina sideline seemed dead as the players were lined up looking on in dismay as the Wolfpack were now first and goal. But Tre Boston soon stepped up with a solid one-on-one tackle to force a field goal for NC State.
With 7:12 left in the first quarter, it was a perfect start for the fired up Wolfpack. The score stood at 10-0 in favor of the team in red.
Carolina knew they had to do something different. And they inserted Marquise Williams in at the quarterback position. Williams connected with Ebron and then Logan burst ahead for a first down carry.
Bug Howard then snagged a crisply thrown ball by Williams to set the Tar Heels up for a solid scoring chance. Williams then tucked the ball and ran ahead for some positive yardage.
A disqualification call by the official on a NC State player was controversial inside the stadium. But the Tar Heels weren’t complaining. The penalty handed them a first and goal situation from the 4-yard line.
A grab from Quinshad Davis in the corner of the end zone scored a much needed touchdown for the Tar Heels. Williams threw a perfect pass to ignite the Tar Heel sideline and get the Tar Heels right back in the game now down 10-7 with 4:41 remaining.
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Williams impressively went 4-4 passing for 43 yards and a touchdown on the scoring drive.
The authoritative drive by UNC signaled to the Wolfpack that they were here to compete. And if it didn’t the spirited play of their defense on the next series certainly would. The Tar Heels forced a three and out.
Next, Coach Doeren made a questionable, if not flat out crazy decision to go for a fake punt. He failed, and the UNC offense was gifted prime field position on the NC State side of the field.
The four play, 29-yard scoring drive was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Renner to push the Tar Heels ahead on the road 14-10 and temporarily silence the Wolfpack fans.
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On the next possession for NC State, tailback Shadrach Thornton rumbled ahead for a 24 yard gain into UNC territory. The Wolfpack were just outside of the red zone when time ran out in the first quarter of play. Carolina was holding on to a 14-10 lead.
The Wolfpack held a 137-97 edge in total yardage.
Oh boy! At the start of the second quarter, a Wolfpack receiver dropped a wide open pass to set up third down. And the next Mitchell pass fell to the turf harmlessly to set up a field goal try for NC State.
The Nick Sade field goal sailed through the uprights to place the score at 14-13 in favor of Carolina with 14:48 remaining in second quarter.
A controversial spot by the officials on what appeared to be a first down reception for the Tar Heels forced a punt and handed the ball back to the Wolfpack.
Thornton was rolling with the football as the offense of NC State was driving into UNC territory looking to reclaim the lead. The UNC defense pushed Mitchell out of bounds shy of the first down marker to force another Sade field goal attempt. Sade punched it through to give the Wolfpack back the lead 16-14 with 10:31 left in the half.
How would the Tar Heels respond? Williams was clobbered in the back field and the decibel level inside Carter-Finley was turned up a notch. Facing a crucial third down play, NC State called a time out to get set.
Renner delivered the goods on third down to keep the drive alive thanks to the capable hands of TJ Thorpe. And lightning struck on the very next play. A 59-yard pass from Ryan Switzer to Davis showed off some tricks in the UNC offensive playbook. The Tar Heels were vaulted back ahead 21-16 with 9:43 left in the half.
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What would happen next in this back and forth tussle? Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, bandit Norkeithus Otis was injured and walked off the field on the next series.
The Tar Heel defense put together a solid three and out effort. The Wolfpack were forced to punt.
But it was nothing doing for the UNC offense on the following possession as Tommy Hibbard was on the field for beautiful punt that pinned the Wolfpack back down at their own 2-yard line.
A third down throw was almost intercepted by Tre Boston, but NC State’s punt was fielded by Switzer to give the Tar Heels great field position at the 40-yard line of NC State.
But the Tar Heels faced a fourth down decision at the Wolfpack 36-yard line. Would they punt or go for it? Coach Fedora called a time out to think things over with 4:56 remaining in half.
And one timeout wasn’t enough. He called another one, and then elected to punt the ball.
A great defensive series was put in by the Tar Heels to earn the ball back for the offense. How would Carolina fare this go around?
Not well at all as the Wolfpack defensive line broke through on third down and Renner was forced to throw the ball away.
NC State was happy to run out the clock and go into the locker room down five with the score sitting at 21-16 in favor of Carolina.
At the half, the stat lines were almost dead even. North Carolina held a slim 216-192 yard edge in total yardage. Brandon Mitchell led the Wolfpack in total rush yards with 76 yards while Khris Francis led the Tar Heels with a mere 16 yards on the ground.
Quinshad Davis was the highlight for the Tar Heel offense with two touchdown grabs. One was thrown from Williams, the other from Switzer.
The ball went to NC State to open proceedings in the second half, but the drive stalled and a solid punt pinned the Tar Heel offense back inside their five-yard line.
Renner was back behind center in the first series and he delivered a clutch throw to Sean Tapley on third down in the shadow of his own end zone.
The dual threat combo at quarterback continued for Carolina as Williams picked up a first down on a sneak up the middle off some solid blocking by the young Tar Heel offensive line.
Renner took a look deep, but the pass fell incomplete. A 39-yard punt by Hibbard gave NC State the ball at the 11-yard line.
Travis Hughes applied some good pressure on Mitchell on first down, but then the quarterback ran ahead for a huge gain only made better by a late hit penalty on UNC.
Coach Fedora was furious on the referee’s decision on the penalty. But Mitchell wasn’t fazed for NC State. He delivered a bullet completion to push the Wolfpack into the red zone.
The drive was halted by a gang tackle in the back field by the Carolina defense. Sade’s field goal was good. The score stood at 21-19 Tar Heels with 4:50 left in third quarter.
On a helmet-to-helmet collision on a third down play, no flag was thrown by the officials. Marquise Williams was shaken up on the play, but walked off the field.
A Hibbard punt resulted in a hefty return by NC State across the 50-yard line.
Tar Heel cornerback Tim Scott came up with a timely interception to give the UNC offense another crack at it. But a holding call on center Russell Bodine set the offense behind schedule to begin the drive.
Renner was hit hard and knocked out of the game, temporarily at least. The third quarter came to a close with the Tar Heels setting up for a field goal attempt from the 26-yard line. Carolina held a slim 21-19 lead heading into the final period of play.
After three, Carolina and NC State were deadlocked at 15 first downs apiece.
Moore’s field goal attempt was pushed to the right. NC State was fired up, but they weren’t able to build off the momentum, forced to punt.
On the ensuing drive, Carolina was mixing up the play calling well. Ebron hauled in a clutch third down conversion and Bug Howard caught a nice one. The drive was capped off by a run into the end zone by TJ Logan. But a missed extra point by Thomas Moore kept the Wolfpack in the game down just one score and a two-point conversion at 27-19 with 11:19 remaining in the contest.
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The Tar Heels got the ball right back off an interception by Brian Walker. Now, UNC could see the finish line if they were able to add points to the scoreboard on this drive.
Well, the story of the next drive for the Tar Heels was unfortunately the yellow flag. Carolina shot themselves in the foot with two holding calls that moved them out of field goal position and forced them to punt the ball back to NC State with 6:20 remaining in the contest. How big would those penalties end up being to the outcome of the game?
It was up to the Wolfpack to take advantage. And they answered the bell with an extensive drive that was spearheaded by tough, physical running by Shadrach Thornton. But soon, it was fourth down and the Tar Heels broke up a pass by Mitchell to get the ball back with 2:42 remaining.
AJ Blue picked up the dagger first down for the Tar Heels, and Carolina ran out the clock from there.
It was a much needed rivalry win for Carolina. The 27-19 win marked the first time the Tar Heels had won in Carter-Finley Stadium since 2005. Carolina kept their bowl hopes alive and awaits Homecoming against Virginia next week.