Giglio: UNC-State have provided great moments, even if Saturday’s game doesn’t

jgiglio@newsobserver.comNovember 1, 2013 

You’ve given us enough, North Carolina and N.C. State.

So if Saturday’s game, the 103rd meeting between the Tar Heels and Wolfpack, doesn’t quite live up to the recent matchups, both teams have earned a year off.

With nine losses and more problems between them, and both playing catch-up with Duke in the Triangle, the anticipation has been less than electric.

UNC coach Larry Fedora has eased off his countdown and “legitimize” comments, at least publicly, and first-year N.C. State coach Dave Doeren doesn’t make any unprompted comments about the Tar Heels.

There’s no Tom O’Brien (Best Program in the State! Triple Play of Violations!), no Everett Withers (Flagship!) to stoke the fires. Gio Bernard (The Punt Return!) and Russell Wilson (The 2-yard Hail Mary!) are in the NFL.

Winning records? Major stakes? That would be nice for a rivalry, but we’re being greedy by asking for more than what we’ve had recently.

Think about it. The first game between them was 119 years ago. By a conservative estimate, there have been 11,000 plays in the series and Bernard and Wilson have authored two of the best, and most memorable, in the past three years.

There is a tendency, especially in this age of social media and instant feedback, to overreact to what just happened, but we can safely assume Bernard’s 74-yard punt return in last year’s 43-35 UNC win will stand the test of time (if for no other reason than Jones Angell’s spectacular radio call of the play).

So will Wilson’s heroics in 2010, which helped the Wolfpack win 29-25 at Kenan Stadium in one of the best-played games in the series of the past 25 years.

Rivalry highs and lows

Cam Wentz got to experience both ends of the emotional spectrum in the rivalry. He played center for the Wolfpack in three wins, from 2009 to ’11, and suffered through last year’s loss in Chapel Hill.

Wentz, who now writes for the web site, said he was lucky to be apart of four great games. When he roomed this summer at Minnesota Vikings training camp with former UNC lineman Travis Bond, he reminded Bond he was 3-1 against the Tar Heels.

Still, there was no getting around what happened last year and Bernard’s spectacular return.

“That was a tough one,” Wentz said. “We were up 35-25 going into the fourth quarter and we thought we had it in the bag.

“That just shows you how crazy football can be.”

Wentz has partnered with former UNC safety Matt Merletti and a group of other former players in the area to provide content for HuddlePass, which lets fans interact with former players. Instead of a message board with anonymous posters, the site has articles and insight from former players from each school.

2-yard Hail Mary

For Merletti, the week of the State-Carolina game always transports him back to 2010. He was one of seven players, and four UNC defenders, in the back corner of the end zone on Wilson’s 2-yard touchdown pass to receiver Owen Spencer.

Down 19-10, and on fourth and goal from the 2, Wilson scrambled all the way back to the 21-yard line and heaved a pass into the back right corner of the end zone.

UNC safety Da’Norris Searcy jumped and instinctively tried to knock the pass down, but it went right into the hands of an alert Spencer for the touchdown.

“That’s still such a hard play to think about,” said Merletti, who graduated from UNC in 2011. “It was just such fluky-type play.

“Russell’s such unbelievable player, who has gone on to do incredible things, but that was really incredible, whether he meant to do it or not.”

We’ve gotten two great plays by two great players but it has been more than that. The series was elevated by O’Brien’s winning streak and zingers and Withers’ bizarre radio interview with The Fan’s Joe Ovies – which O’Brien played in its entirety before the 2011 game, a 13-0 State win, in lieu of a pregame speech.

The presumptuous “Our State” billboards ratcheted the hype another notch last year, which prompted Bernard to promise on Twitter months before The Punt Return, to take that “junk” down.

The two sides have given us so much in the past six years, we can make through one game without another epic highlight.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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