As the clock neared zero, with North Carolina down 11 points to Baylor, the fans at Top of the Hill restaurant started to put on their jackets and leave.
Sam Jones, a 2014 graduate of UNC, dressed in Carolina blue, and others just stared at the television.
“It’s really disappointing, because you knew coming in; it was going to be an offensive showdown,” Jones said. “But to have us kind of outdone at our own game is tough.”
There was a mix of emotions among the patrons at Top of the Hill restaurant on Franklin Street throughout, as they watched on a big screen North Carolina face Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
About three-fourths of the restaurant was filled Tuesday night. It was still winter break for students at UNC-Chapel Hill, and restaurant employees didn’t expect the biggest crowd they’d ever had.
Nonetheless, the patrons who were there, cheered when their team scored and remained quiet when Baylor scored.
The first quarter went back and forth between the two teams.
The Tar Heel’s first drive was like a roller coaster for their fans, highlighted by a near 33-yard touchdown on a go route that slipped off wide receiver Mack Hollins’ finger tips.
“Ohhhhh,” they said in disappointment.
But a few plays later the disappointment turned into excitement as quarterback Marquise Williams found his tight end Brandon Fitts wide open in the end zone.
When Baylor got the ball back, the Bears drove the ball down field and scored to tie the game. Four minutes later, after forcing UNC to punt, they scored again on a short run.
And by the end of the first quarter Baylor led UNC 14-7, with UNC nearing midfield.
After each mistake, Amir Barzin, a 2006 graduate of UNC, placed his hands on his head. Wearing a Carolina Blue shirt, he did it often on the Tar Heel’s first drive. Especially after what looked to be a successful UNC offensive drive suddenly stalled after a dropped catch and a sack.
UNC settled for a field goal to bring them to within four.
Baylor running backs and their quarterback found plenty of holes in the Tar Heels defense and scored again, to put the Bears up 21-10.
“It’s been a tough first couple of quarters here,” Barzin said. “I think Baylor is running the ball really well. And our run defense hasn’t looked really great. Hopefully Marquise (Williams) will start gearing it on a little bit better, and hopefully our offense will start hooking up.”
Barzin said he was hopeful UNC would make a comeback strong in the second half.
“This is the best year I’ve ever seen us ever play in terms of football seasons in the past eight years, and you really want to cheer for them to come up big,” he said.
Thirty seconds later, Williams threw an interception.
As Baylor continued to demonstrate success on the ground it extended the lead to 28-10. That was probably the quietest the restaurant had been.
Williams gave fans something to cheer about in the next possession after he gained 21 yards on a quarterback draw.
But fans gasped on the next play after Ryan Switzer was hit hard by a Baylor defensive back. The camera got a glimpse of Switzer’s face, with blood coming out of his mouth.
The restaurant was its loudest when Williams ran for a touchdown with 1:41 left in the first half to make it 28-17. Many in the restaurant stood up and clapped.
Francis Henry, who has been a fan of UNC for 40 years, was one of those who clapped. He said he thought the Tar Heels were getting outplayed.
“The other team is faster and quicker,” he said. “Coach Fedora may do something about that. Good plays that offset scheme. That’s what I’m looking for.
“They’re a good second-half team, so I’m optimistic.”
Down a couple flights of stairs at Back Bar in a smaller setting, a few Tar Heel fans had gathered to have a beer or glass of wine and shoot pool, while watching the game from one of the six flat screen televisions.
Marquise Williams threw what appeared to be 75-yard touchdown to Mack Hollins to start the half. The patrons there cheered loudly, until the referees brought it back because Hollins had stopped out of bounds.
UNC would eventually score on that drive to make the score 28-24, and those in the bar would cheer again.
While Baylor methodically drove down field again, getting into the red zone, the bar remained quiet.
But Baylor’s quarterback threw an interception in the end zone that had Tar Heels fans hopeful again. The Tar Heels couldn’t take advantage of the turnover and were forced to punt. A Mack Hollins ejection for targeting on the next drive had some in the bar complaining of a bad call.
The Bears got the ball back on their 50-yard line and scored to put them up 35-24.
Worth Mills, a 2014 graduate of UNC, stared at the television. He said he still remained hopeful.
That was until UNC running back T.J. Logan fumbled at the goal line. Baylor got the ball back at its own 20-yard line, and running back Johnny Jefferson scored on a 80-yard touchdown run.
The reactions among fans in the bar mirrored those on the TV screen.
Shock. The game would have been 35-31. Instead UNC found themselves down 42-24.
“I just feel like we should have finished the play,” Megan Hayworth, a 2013 graduate of UNC and grad student, said. “I mean understand; he made a good tackle but he should have held on to the ball.”
UNC scored on their next possession to bring the score to 42-31, but it didn’t do much for fans at Back Bar.
Back upstairs at Top of the Hill, it was a quiet scene. About a quarter of those who were there in the first half had left, and not many replaced them.
UNC couldn’t stop Baylor, as the Bears continued to have success on the ground. Another score put them up 49-31.
The only talk in the restaurant were among people who were there to mingle.
As the clock ticked down, and it seemed like there was nothing UNC could do, some fans started to put on their jackets and headed home early.
A touchdown by UNC to bring the score to 49-38 generated a few claps, but it was too little too late.
There was Jones, the 2014 graduate, staring at the television in disbelief. He had watched the team win all year.
“But I’m still proud of this team,” he said. “It’s been a great year, but it’s still tough to watch.”