CHAPEL HILL — CHAPEL HILL -- T.A. McLendon, make room for Russell Wilson, Owen Spencer and DaNorris Searcy.
After Saturday, theres a new item for an already long list of improbable developments in the North Carolina and N.C. State football series.
"It was the kind of play you watch on TV," Spencer said.
This one will be recalled as one of the longest and most eventful 2-yard scoring passes ever the Wolfpacks Wilson to Spencer by way of a deflection by Carolinas Searcy.
I still cant believe it, Searcy said. I dont guess Ill ever be able to forget it, though.
The fourth-and-goal play, which happened with 3:38 left in the third quarter, changed the game and propelled State to a 29-25 win.
But it was more than a mere win for the Wolfpack (8-3 overall, 5-2 ACC Atlantic). Spencers catch, coupled with an 87-yard punt return by T.J. Graham minutes later, kept the Pack alive in the ACC championship race.
With a win this Saturday at Maryland, the Pack will advance to the Dec. 4 league title game in Charlotte.
For Carolina (6-5, 3-4 ACC Coastal), the loss means the Tar Heels will have to win at Duke (3-8, 1-6 ACC Coastal) this week to be guaranteed a winning finish in Butch Davis fourth season.
With State down 19-10, Wilson was flushed deep (close to the 20-yard-line) and near the right sideline when he released a high, desperate toss to the back right corner of the end zone.
Four Carolina defenders and three State pass receivers converged near the back line _ only a few feet from where Carolinas ram mascot was grazing.
Searcy, a 6-foot safety, said he jumped as high as possible and swatted the pass.
Possession somehow wound up in the hands of Spencer, who was barely inbounds.
"Russell just threw it up and all the Carolina guys were trying to tip it in instead of tip it out of bounds, Spencer said.
I saw it come down real, real slow, and I was like, this is my chance to get it. The play put me in position to have enough space to get it."
After a long officiating review and the ejections of Carolinas Kevin Reddick and States Jarvis Williams for unsportsmanlike conduct, the touchdown ruling stood.
It changed the game for sure, Searcy said. I thought we had them stopped on fourth down and were off the field. I couldnt believe it when I got up and saw them with the ball and the ref calling touchdown.
Defensive back teammate Kendric Burney put it another way: Luck was on their side, but they played a great game too. I guess people will be talking about that one play for 40 years. Itll be like that T.A. McLendon thing, I guess.
In 2004, in the same end zone at Kenan Stadium, State was tagged with a 30-24 loss when McLendon failed to score on two straight runs from the one with less than 30 seconds on the clock. On the first attempt, one of the officials appeared to have signaled a score. On the second, McLendon fumbled.
In 1995, the Heels escaped with a 30-28 win in Raleigh when UNC defender Fuzzy Lee said he pushed State receiver Mark Thomas away from the ball on a two-point conversion attempt.
Those kind of plays change games, said UNC cornerback Deunta Williams. That play definitely did [State] would have packed it in."
Davis, now 0-4 in the series, credited State for making the play. But Davis said Wilson should have been flagged for intentional grounding on an earlier play in the drive.
But on that tip play, Ive got the worst seat of anybody to be able to see it, Davis said.
There were all kinds of discussions who tipped it first, was the guy out of bounds, should it have been a dead ball Im more disappointed on the
play previous to that. That should have been probably intention grounding, [then] that [touchdown] play never happens.
States previous play actually was a run for one yard, but Wilson did throw incompletions on first and second downs from inside the five.
State coach Tom OBrien described it almost like a Hail Mary throw.
Thats what it ended up being. It was a prayer, and it was answered," OBrien said.
The Heels fought back, cutting States lead to 27-25 on a scoring pass from T.J. Yates to Christian Wilson with 65 seconds left.
Carolina went for two, but Yates pass was incomplete.
Folks will remember that play, too. But itll be Wilson to Searcy to Spencer to possibly Charlotte that tops the memories of this one.
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