At least Everett Withers and Tom O'Brien managed to pump some excitement into the week leading up to the game, getting into an entertaining spat like a couple Real Housewives of the ACC. That measured up to the standards of this rivalry even when the game didn't.
A year after North Carolina and N.C. State combined in Chapel Hill to produce one of the most thrilling editions of the rivalry in recent memory, with Russell Wilson and T.J. Yates dueling like Ali and Frazier in Manila, the teams conspired Saturday to make sure the coaches' war of words was as compelling as anything that happened on the field.
When Withers disparaged N.C. State's academic standards in an absolutely priceless outburst of hypocrisy Wednesday, and O'Brien responded Thursday by dragging up nearly every one of North Carolina's transgressions under Butch Davis as well as a few the Tar Heels weren't charged with, it set the stage for an epic game.
This was the kind of game it was: N.C. State used a replay challenge to get one of its own passes ruled incomplete, and North Carolina was thrilled to be called for a false start at one point.
Yet it wasn't necessarily a case of the game not living up to the pregame hype. It might have been a case of the actual hype being far more entertaining than the game.
O'Brien even played the tape of Withers' radio interview for his team before the game, and the Wolfpack came away with a 13-0 win. It was hard to tell whether N.C. State's defense was particularly inspired or North Carolina's offense particularly insipid, but the result was the same either way.
The Wolfpack and its fans will savor this one for a while, and the Tar Heels and their fans have another year to suffer the ignominy of their losing streak against N.C. State, which now stands at a record five. Entire classes of UNC football players have arrived, matriculated and departed without beating N.C. State.
"I played in what, three of them?" North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick said. "It is what it is, man. The better team won today. That's it."
North Carolina running back Gio Bernard questioned his team's heart and focus after the game, which staggers the imagination. How is it possible not to take this game seriously, even if North Carolina hadn't lost four straight in the series, which the Tar Heels had?
Withers said he didn't think N.C. State had an edge in intensity. It was about Xs and Os, he said, no doubt aware that any extra motivation the Wolfpack might have had could be traced to his own words.
"This is a big game in this state," Withers said. "This is supposed to be a rivalry and it's supposed to eat at you. It's supposed to get to you when you lose and you're supposed to remember it and get better and come back the next year and do something about it."
For Withers, the interim coach after Davis' firing, there probably won't be another chance to beat N.C. State. He fired all his guns last week and ended up firing up N.C. State instead.
"We talked about it," N.C. State linebacker Audie Cole said. "We're like the farmers and they're the educated people, I guess. Whatever. We won and the farmers will be happy on Monday going to work."
It just wouldn't feel complete without that final salvo from Cole, in a week N.C. State won on both fronts: the game and the trash talking.