The games between N.C. State and North Carolina haven’t made a whole lot of sense lately.
The Tar Heels have won the past two games in Raleigh, and the Wolfpack has won the past two games in Chapel Hill.
“Anything can happen in a rivalry game,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said.
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And it normally does when these two teams get together. From UNC’s disputed goal-line stand in 2004 to Russell Wilson’s “2-yard Hail Mary” in 2010, the unusual has been the usual recently. Gio Bernard’s epic punt return (2012), and Wilson’s super-human effort (2009) can attest to that.
The stakes are slightly different this year, with UNC (3-8) a 16.5-point underdog, but the sentiment is not.
“We hate them, and they hate us,” N.C. State senior guard Tony Adams said.
The Tar Heels are trying to salvage what they can from a disappointing season. After going 13-3 in ACC play the past two seasons under Fedora, the Heels have fallen to 1-6.
An abundance of injuries and turnovers led to a six-game losing streak. The Heels have had as many as 18 players listed “out for the season” on their weekly injury report.
Turnovers have been UNC’s biggest problem. It has turned the ball over 20 times, the second-highest total in the ACC and 101st in the country. The Heels have a minus-5 turnover margin on the season.
But they’ve found some life with the emergence of quarterback Nathan Elliott and receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams. They avoided the potential for their first winless ACC season since 1989 with a 34-31 win at Pittsburgh on Nov. 9 and then rolled Western Carolina, 65-10 at home last week.
“They’ve got good, young players and they’re getting better as the year has gone on,” Doeren said.
While the Heels are picking up confidence, N.C. State has lost three of its past four games.
The Wolfpack (7-4, 5-2 ACC) spent much of the season in the national rankings, and in first place in the Atlantic Division, but has had its season derailed.
Close losses to South Carolina, Clemson and Wake Forest are the difference between a good and great season for the Wolfpack.
But there’s still bowl positioning to play for, a trip to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. on Dec. 30 is within reach, and there’s the senior class.
N.C. State has 20 seniors playing in their last home game. The group has a chance to go 3-1 against UNC and finally beat the Tar Heels at home.
Doeren had the seniors stand up on Sunday in front of the team to remind the players what this game was about.
“That should mean something to you if you play on this team,” quarterback Ryan Finley said. “It sure means something to me with all of the seniors we have and all they’ve done.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
UNC at NC State
When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh