TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — North Carolina won its first game ever at Florida State, qualified for a bowl, stayed alive in the Coastal Division race and ushered T.J. Yates into the record book all in one wild afternoon.
And it came after another Florida State kicker missed another field goal wide right in the final seconds.
What a finish. What a game. What a win.
UNC beat No. 24 Florida State 37-35 on Saturday behind Yates' school-record 439 passing yards for its sixth win of the season and first in 10 trips to Tallahassee.
The Seminoles (6-3, 4-2 ACC) almost pulled off a dramatic win of their own, but kicker Dustin Hopkins pushed a 40-yard field goal in the final seconds wide to the right.
"That was an insane game," Yates said.
Two special teams mistakes in the final 6 minutes nearly cost the Tar Heels the win.
UNC (6-3, 3-2) led 34-28 in the fourth quarter when a snap from Mark House sailed over punter C.J. Feagles' head. Feagles kicked the bouncing ball out of the end zone from the 3-yard line, which is illegal touching.
FSU took over on UNC's 1-yard line, and on the next play Lonnie Pryor punched in his second touchdown of the game to put FSU up 35-34 after the extra point at 5:39 in the fourth quarter.
"It would have been a shame for the game to have ended on that play," said UNC coach Butch Davis, who improved to 2-6 as a head coach against FSU.
Yates and receiver Dwight Jones wouldn't let the game end that way.
As Yates (24 of 35, 439 yards, three TDs) did all game, he found Jones (eight catches, 233 yards) for a crucial 31-yard gain on what Davis called the "single-best drive that our football team" has had in his four years at UNC.
With backs Johnny White and Shaun Draughn sidelined with injuries, Yates led a 12-play, 72-yard drive to FSU's 5-yard line.
Casey Barth nailed a 22-yard chip shot, his third of the game, with 55 seconds to put UNC back up 37-35.
Then another special teams mistake almost undid UNC again. Florida State's Greg Reid returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards and put the Noles at UNC's 45-yard line with 44 seconds to play.
FSU quarterback Christian Ponder (264 yards, three touchdowns) hit three passes to move the Noles to UNC's 20-yard line.
He took a knee to line the ball up in the middle of the field and set up Hopkins, the strong-legged and previously dependable kicker, for the potential game-winner from 40 yards.
Like Gerry Thomas and Dan Mowrey before him, Hopkins missed wide right. Those historic misses were against Miami in the early 1990s, but the missed kick has a dubious place in FSU's illustrious history.
The Heels won the game despite losing another important player. White, the ACC's leader in yards from scrimmage, was tackled by Nigel Bradham and crashed to the ground on his right shoulder with Bradham's weight on top of him.
He gained 12 yards on the catch at 9:24 in the second quarter, but it was his last play of the season. He broke his right clavicle and will miss the final three games.
Davis said the game and how UNC handled the drama and adversity were a "microcosm" of the season, which has been marked by an NCAA investigation and a series of injuries.
"Our kids proved again their resiliency and their refusal to surrender in the face of adversity and to just keep fighting," Davis said.
Yates made up for the special teams mistakes, and the loss of White, with his second 400-yard game of the season.
There had been only three 400-yard passing games in UNC history before this season.
Yates had 412 yards in the opener against LSU. The senior was even better in his 40th career start, surpassing Darian Durant's 417-yard game against Arizona State in 2002.
He shrugged after the game when he was told about the record.
"That's pretty cool, I guess," Yates said. "I will remember this win."
So will everyone else at UNC.
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