To most Carolina fans, ECU is like a much younger brother. It’s sort of cute and amusing the way he thinks that he can compete with you and all your friends when you play pick-up games, much like how ECU thinks that they have a football rivalry with UNC (Seriously, check their Wikipedia page) and how they want to join the Big East. You sort of just laugh and shake your head when you hear his protests that he’d be really good if you just gave him a chance. Occasionally you let him play with you to be nice, and most of the time, he gets crushed, but you don’t rub it in because it’s not a big deal or even important to you. You’re expected to win because you’re bigger, stronger, faster:
End of story. The trouble is that every once in awhile, you play poorly, your brother plays out of his mind, and you get a little bit unlucky, resulting in a rare victory for the younger sibling. This, while obviously a little embarrassing, wouldn’t be such a terrible thing in and of itself. It’s the way your younger brother then proceeds to talk about it 24/7 to every person in the entire world, like it’s the greatest achievement of mankind since the lunar landing, that’s the real problem. Suffering through unwarranted arrogance, as UNC fans were forced to do following the loss in Greenville in 2007, is the worst punishment of all.
The desire to avoid shame is a powerful motivator, and the atmosphere was very energetic as football returned to Kenan Stadium following a two-week reprieve. Chase Rice got the crowd going before the game with a tailgate concert, and tons of students were painting up in support of the Heels just outside the stadium. As annoying as it was to see roughly 25% of the crowd in purple, complete with a fan in a full pirate costume in the Tar Pit shouting idiotic cheers like “ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH” and “ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH,” I respect ECU fans for showing up. The same could not be said of UNC Greeks, who, despite a well-run pep rally the night before, did not come close to filling their section prior to kickoff.
Even though UNC supporters were largely fired up, the Heels were not ready to go at the outset of the game. Gio Bernard returned from injury to score a nice touchdown in the first quarter, but he never seemed quite as electric as he did in the opener against Elon. The defense played pretty well, holding ECU to two field goals, but the offense couldn’t capitalize on its chances. The first half was epitomized by the sequence that concluded the second quarter. UNC took over with under two minutes to play and moved the ball down to the ECU 16 with relative ease, but then Renner was strip-sacked on third down, forcing the Heels to attempt a field goal after recovering the fumble. Casey Barth, normally automatic inside 40 yards, missed the chip shot, leaving the score 10-6 going into the half. In short, what should have been a dominant performance was derailed by a few mistakes and missed opportunities.
The Tar Heels looked better on offense in the third quarter, scoring on a quick strike to Sean Tapley, immediately recovering a fumble on the next ECU possession, and turning the short field into another touchdown. Still, the game was sloppy on both sides of the ball, as UNC racked up a total of nine penalties for 91 yards, including a stupid personal foul for blocking a player without a helmet. Despite recording five sacks in the second half and holding the Pirates scoreless, the tackling on defense was less than stellar, particularly on a 36-yard scamper by Vintavious Cooper that allowed ECU to pick up a 3rd-and-31.
Ultimately, UNC was lucky to have been playing an inferior opponent, and it’s unlikely that the Tar Heels would have won had this been an ACC contest. Still, a win is a win, and though it may not have felt that way, Carolina did win by three touchdowns.
My favorite moment of the game occurred as I was leaving the stadium. On my way out, I overheard a father explaining to his young son that “ECU is the kind of team that you want to beat really badly.”
“But why?” asked the curious child.
After thinking for a second, the father replied, “Because they don’t understand that we’re a lot better, so we have to show them just how much better we are.”
And as I veered off the path back toward my dorm, I heard the kid’s voice carrying over the crowd, “But we just beat them by a lot, and we didn’t even play good. How could they not know that we’re better?”