College Football

UNC-N.C. State more evenly matched

Staff WriterNovember 4, 2011 

Maybe the disconnect between the fan bases and coaching staffs at North Carolina and N.C. State has never been further apart, but on the football field, the series has rarely been closer in its 100-game history.

Starting with Mack Brown's final win in the rivalry for Carolina in 1997, each team has won seven games. The Tar Heels hold a 63-31 victory edge in the rivalry (with sixties) and there is only one other significant span since 1894 when the two teams have been this close.

In 26 games from 1955 to 1980, each team won 13 games, with 16 decided by eight points or less.

Eight of the past 14 games have been decided by eight points or less and three of the past four by a total of nine points.

Coach Tom O'Brien's four-game winning streak has closed the gap for the Wolfpack in the rivalry's standings. In ACC play, which began in 1953, UNC's advantage is 32-26 (which means UNC was up 31-5-6 before ACC play).

To put former UNC coach Butch Davis' 0-4 record in historical perspective, Carolina has had 17 coaches since the series restarted in 1919, after a 14-year gap. Davis, Jim Tatum (0-4) and M.E. Fuller, who suffered a 13-3 loss in 1920, are the only UNC coaches without a win over the Wolfpack. (Gene McEver, who held down the Tar Heel fort in 1944, didn't get the chance to face the Wolfpack.)

Brown, who lost his first five games in the series, all to Dick Sheridan, recovered to win his final five before leaving for Texas after the '97 regular season. Since Brown released his stranglehold on the rivalry, the teams have produced some unforgettable moments. Here are the top three since '97:

3) The Tackle

No one expected an encore of the overtime classic in Charlotte from the previous year and few expected another UNC win when the teams met in 1999.

UNC was 1-8 under an embattled coach Carl Torbush and down to its fourth-string quarterback, Domonique Williams, who had spent more of his college career on defense than under center until that Thursday night in Charlotte.

But State, 6-4 under Mike O'Cain going into the game, found itself trailing 10-6, after an early Williams' touchdown pass, and had one last chance.

On fourth-and-goal from the 4 with 1:36 left, State quarterback Jamie Barnette hit receiver Chris Coleman coming across the middle, but Coleman was stopped from behind, with a great tackle by corner Errol Hood and finished off by safety David Bomar about six inches short of the goal line.

After his seventh straight loss to Carolina, O'Cain was fired two weeks later and joined Torbush's staff the next season as UNC's offensive coordinator.

2) Hail Searcy

UNC safety Da'Norris Searcy had a great senior season. He played his way from the team's third-best defensive back in 2009 into the fourth round of the NFL draft last April.

But Searcy was involved in perhaps the most unusual play in the rivalry's history in last year's Wolfpack win in Chapel Hill. Five months later, one of his teammates to remarked: "I still don't know what he was trying to do on that play."

Down 19-10 near the end of the third quarter, State had the ball on UNC's 2-yard line. On fourth down, three UNC defenders chased State quarterback Russell Wilson about 30 yards across the field and 20 yards back before Wilson heaved up what O'Brien has since called a "2-yard Hail Mary."

In a scrum of seven players at the back right corner of the end zone, Searcy jumped and with his out-stretched right hand tipped the pass - which would have sailed about three yards out of bounds - back into play.

State receiver Owen Spencer, in the right place at the right time, caught the ball for the touchdown. Less than 2 minutes later, State scored on a punt return, and went ahead for good in a 29-25 win.

1) Touchdown Anytime

T.A. McLendon earned the nickname, "Touchdown Anytime" for his prolific scoring ability (178 touchdowns) at Albermarle High School and had 27 touchdowns in his first two seasons at N.C. State in 2002 and '03.

The touchdown that McLendon didn't score, at the end of the 2004 game at UNC - a 30-24 Tar Heel victory - was at the heart of one of the most disputed endings in the rivalry and one of the main reasons instant replay was adopted by the ACC a year later.

Down 30-24, State had the ball on UNC's 3-yard line. McLendon broke through the line of scrimmage and fell towards the end zone. Head linesman Mike Owens, coming from N.C. State's sideline, jogged toward the pile and signaled touchdown. The points were put on Kenan Stadium scoreboard.

However, line judge Rick Page sprinted from the North Carolina sideline and chaos ensued. After a long huddle by the officials, referee Jim Knight ruled McLendon down at the 1 and asked for 14 seconds to be put on the game clock.

On the next play, UNC defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell broke through State's backfield, hit McLendon and popped the ball into safety Kareen Taylor's arms, securing the win and propelling the Tar Heels to a 6-5 regular-season finish, under John Bunting. The Wolfpack finished 5-6 finish under Chuck Amato.

Bunting went 4-2 against the Wolfpack, winning his final three games in the series. Amato was 3-4 vs. the Heels, going 3-1 with quarterback Philip Rivers and winless without him.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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