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UNC’s Fedora says if the game is tight, his team is playing to win, not to avoid losing

UNC’s Fedora: ‘We’re still so close, but so far away’

North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora talks with reporters at his weekly press conference following the Tar Heels' overtime loss to Syracuse.
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North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora talks with reporters at his weekly press conference following the Tar Heels' overtime loss to Syracuse.

If North Carolina finds itself in another tight game, as it has the last two weeks, coach Larry Fedora says that his team will go for the victory.

“We want our guys to feel confident,” Fedora said. “That we have confidence in them and that we’re going to go win the game. We’re not going to be conservative and try to play not to lose. We’re going to play to win.”

UNC (1-5) is riding a three-game losing streak as it heads to Charlottesville, Va., to face the University of Virginia (5-2), winners of two straight. The Tar Heels’ last two losses — against Virginia Tech and Syracuse — were by a combined six points.

Against Syracuse, UNC played to win, but came up short.

On a third-and-four with 2:17 left in the game, the Tar Heels called a trick play to get the first down. Wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams stood in the wildcat formation from UNC’s 16-yard-line, while quarterback Nathan Elliott was split out wide.

Ratliff-Williams faked as if he would take off with the ball, then threw it to tight end Carl Tucker, who was open for a would-be first down. But the ball was slightly low and Tucker dropped it.

Fedora said if in that situation again, he would not be afraid to call those kind of plays again. And he doesn’t worry about his team’s confidence going into those situations.

“We didn’t get it done, but I’ll expect us to the next time.”

There’s no doubt that the Tar Heels have played much better than they did against Miami, a 47-10 loss. In that game, UNC turned the ball over six times. Miami scored three defensive touchdowns.

In the last two games, UNC has held the lead in the fourth quarter both times.

But UNC has failed to finish those games. It lost on Virginia Tech’s final drive two weeks ago, and in double overtime last week against Syracuse.

UNC running back Antonio Williams said those losses hurt more than its other losses.

“Any loss hurts, but one where you go to double overtime —” Williams said Saturday. “I think you can see how much people were giving in this game. Same with last week. It hurts. I hate it for everybody on the team. I absolutely hate it for the coaches because I know they are giving all they’ve got.”

A crucial stat that has seemingly come back to haunt the Tar Heels this season is redzone touchdown percentage. UNC is among the worst teams in the country at 45.8 percent. That means that when UNC gets the ball at the opponents’ 20-yard line or closer, it scores a touchdown less than half the time.

UNC ranks 125th out of 130 FBS teams in that category. Just one touchdown, instead of a field goal, could have been the difference in the last two losses.

“They know we’re close,” Fedora said. “What I worry about more than anything, is somebody waiting for someone else to make the play.

And it needs to be, ‘it’s going to be me that makes this play. I’ve got to want to be the one. I want the ball in my hands. I want the opportunity. I want them to throw it to my guy.’ That’s the mentality that you need when it comes down to a critical situation. You can’t look at it any other way.”

UNC (1-5) at Virginia (5-2)

Where: Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va.

Kickoff: 12:20 p.m.

TV: Ray Com Sports

Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander

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