On a hot opening night for college football at Bank of America Stadium, North Carolina and South Carolina played exactly the sort of game you wanted to see if you didn’t much care who won.
Drama seeped from every corner of the football field. There were end-zone interceptions, a 48-yard TD run, fake punts that worked and fourth-and-1 calls that didn’t. There was uneven quarterback play on both teams, especially by North Carolina’s Marquise Williams. And after all of that, the Gamecocks edged the Tar Heels, 17-13.
South Carolina fans, who outnumbered UNC’s by approximately two-to-one in the stadium, could celebrate a fourth-quarter comeback and a defense that intercepted Williams three times in the red zone. UNC fans saw better defense from the Tar Heels, too, but ultimately were frustrated by a quarterback who should have known better.
I also thought Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora made a horrible decision not to let Charlotte Catholic product Elijah Hood (12 carries, 138 yards) touch the ball even once in the Tar Heels’ final four downs on offense when UNC drove down inside the Gamecocks’ 10 in the last five minutes.
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Hood was the one player the Gamecocks had no answer for, and Fedora instead kept trying to win with a quarterback who kept making terrible decisions. Hood wasn’t even in the game on the first three downs inside the 10, and was only a decoy on the fourth.
Fedora blamed Hood not getting the ball on the last four plays on the vague excuse of “getting behind on the chains.” But on first-and-goal from the 9, Hood was on the bench and the ball went to backup running back T.J. Logan for zero yards.
As for Williams, Fedora said: “You’ve got to throw it to the guys in blue, not in red.... I kept thinking he was going to get it going.”
It was a successful night on a number of fronts for Charlotte –entertainment value, weather, buzz. It was noticeably unsuccessful in one. This game realistically should have been a sellout, or close to it.
Instead, game organizers priced the tickets too high (the cheapest seats were close to $80 by the time you factored in the service charges) and also switched the game from Saturday to Thursday night at ESPN’s request. The result: a larger national TV audience, but a paid attendance of 51,664 and more than 20,000 empty seats.
The fans who came, though, had plenty to watch. Two evenly matched teams pulled on each other like the moon pulling on the tide.
UNC, which gave up averages of nearly 40 points and 500 yards per game last season, showed a lot of progress on defense and nursed its 13-10 halftime lead all the way into the fourth quarter. But South Carolina then got a 48-yard TD run from speedy Shon Carson. Then a final interception of Williams by South Carolin’a Skai Moore in the end zone – it was such a bad throw you would have caught it, too -- squashed UNC’s last scoring threat.
The Gameocks ran out the final 3 minutes, 29 seconds with their backup quarterback after starter Connor Mitch left in the fourth quarter because of a hip pointer and cramps.
Said Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, who improved to 6-0 against UNC in his coaching career: “The football gods smiled on the Gamecocks tonight.... Their defense got the best of our offense pretty much... We’re very fortunate.”
This game will be played again in Charlotte again to open both the 2019 and 2023 college seasons. For those two, let’s hope the ticket prices are lower, the games are played on a Saturday and the drama level on the field is just as high as it was for this one.