RALEIGH — No one on North Carolina’s roster had won a college football game at Carter-Finley Stadium before Saturday.
Sophomore receiver Quinshad Davis changed that for the Tar Heels in a 27-19 win against N.C. State, their first in Raleigh since 2005.
Davis caught a pair of touchdown passes for North Carolina (3-5, 2-3 ACC), which won its second straight game over the Wolfpack and second game in as many weeks after an 0-3 ACC start.
For North Carolina’s seniors, it’s a sweet turnaround in the rivalry after the Tar Heels had lost five straight from 2007 to ’11.
“I couldn’t even imagine how this was going to feel,” UNC senior tackle James Hurst said. “But this is the best feeling I’ve had in a long, long time, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it and savoring it.”
For the Wolfpack (3-5, 0-5 ACC), it was another bitter loss in a string of stumbles in conference play. N.C. State dropped its fifth consecutive ACC game under first-year coach Dave Doeren.
“It came down to mistakes for us, we made too many,” Doeren said.
The Tar Heels used a trick play for a touchdown and turned Doeren’s decision to try for a fake punt into another touchdown.
“That’s on me,” Doeren said of the fake punt, which resulted in a 1-yard loss and gave North Carolina possession at the Wolfpack 29. “I thought we had it and it didn’t work.”
Throw in freshman running back T.J. Logan’s 14-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and the Tar Heels ended up celebrating on the midfield logo after the game.
N.C. State’s marketing slogan is “Our State” but second-year coach Larry Fedora, who’s 2-0 in the series, wasn’t shy about staking his claim.
“As far as I know, it’s always been the Tar Heel State and always will be,” Fedora said.
The Tar Heels gave N.C. State two chances after Logan’s touchdown run at 11:19 in the fourth quarter. North Carolina kicker Thomas Moore missed the PAT to leave it a one-possession game.
Wolfpack quarterback Brandon Mitchell ran for 105 yards but threw two interceptions. Freshman safety Brian Walker picked off Mitchell at 10:53 in the fourth quarter, but the Wolfpack defense got the ball back with 6:20 left.
Doeren went with backup quarterback Pete Thomas, instead of Mitchell, on the last drive. After the game, the coach was clearly upset with Mitchell, who had missed five games with a broken foot earlier in the season.
“He was forcing balls into coverage, I told him he couldn’t throw,” Doeren said. “I said ‘If it’s not there, throw it away’ and he didn’t. So I took him out.”
Thomas hit running back Tony Creecy for a 21-yard play, but the penultimate drive stalled at N.C. State’s 49-yard line.
Mitchell, who finished 10 of 22 for 130 yards, said he understood why Doeren took him out.
“I cost my team a victory,” Mitchell said. “I mean, two turnovers in key situations when we had a chance to go take the lead. I would have pulled myself, too.”
The game turned on a botched fake punt by the Wolfpack in the first quarter. Up 10-7, N.C. State ran a fake punt on fourth and 8 from its own 30. Linebacker Robert Caldwell ran for a loss of 1 yard, giving the Tar Heels the ball on N.C. State’s 29.
Three plays later, North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner turned the gaffe into a 1-yard touchdown run and a 14-10 lead at 1:59 in the first quarter.
Doeren said he called the fake based on what he seen on film in scouting the Tar Heels.
The Wolfpack recovered from the mistake to take a 16-14 lead on a pair of second-quarter field goals from Nik Sade. Then Fedora dug into his bag of tricks for a touchdown.
Renner threw the ball backward to receiver Ryan Switzer, who was behind the line of scrimmage, and then Switzer uncorked a perfect 59-yard strike to Davis for the touchdown and a 21-16 lead at 9:43 in the second quarter.
Davis also caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Marquise Williams in the first quarter.
N.C. State led 7-0 after an interception by cornerback Juston Burris on the first series of the game set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Mitchell. Sade’s 20-yard field goal on the Pack’s next possession made it 10-0.
The Wolfpack couldn’t sustain the offensive momentum. Not with North Carolina’s defense forcing field goals and coming up with key interceptions.
For the Tar Heels, it was the end of one streak and the continuation of another.