At the conclusion of N.C. State’s 34-28 win over North Carolina, some pushing and shoving took place in the end zone between both teams.
It was part Wolfpack celebration, part Tar Heels letting off frustration of yet another game slipping away from them. UNC (2-9, 1-7) ends another long season with a loss to their rival, and head into the off season, again, asking what if?
Last year injuries ripped apart the Tar Heels’ roster. This season the injuries were there, but so were many more opportunities to come away with a better record than what’s on paper. Carolina lost five games this season by one possession or less, and two games in overtime, including the season-finale against the Wolfpack (8-3, 5-3).
Once again, UNC had a late lead, and fans hoping that, despite all the bad breaks, some luck would finally go their way. Freshman quarterback Cade Fortin ran in for a 1-yard score with 9:29 remaining in the game to give the Tar Heels their first lead of the day, 28-21. It capped off an impressive second half in which UNC moved the ball with ease, scoring on three straight possessions after only managing two Freeman Jones field goals in the first half.
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The Tar Heels were clicking after the break, but after Fortin’s touchdown, the offense stalled while the Wolfpack rolled to a victory thanks to a fifth touchdown from Reggie Gallaspy, the last one coming in overtime after Jones missed a 37-yard field goal attempt.
After Fortin’s score, UNC only managed only 63 yards on 16 plays the rest of the way.
“We just couldn’t make enough plays to win a football game,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “We left a lot of points out there on the football field today.”
That’s a song the Tar Heels have been singing all season, a feeling that Fedora called “frustrating.”
“It’s frustrating to everyone in that locker room,” Fedora said.
On a day when the UNC defense held N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley out of the endzone, and got a big day from a pair of freshmen, Fortin (19-40 passing, 276 yards) and running back Javonte Williams (16 carries, 84 yards, 1 TD), it wasn’t enough to end the season on a high note … again.
Fedora was asked to pick a word to describe the 2018 season and after some thought he came up with the most obvious one - frustration. His players echoed those thoughts.
“Frustration would be the same thing for me,” senior J.K. Britt said. “Coming close in so many games. I mean we had two games this year where we went to overtime, we’ve lost games on the last drive of the game, just being this close every time and not being able to capitalize.”
Britt was clear when he followed that up by saying something has to change for the Tar Heels to get over the hump. Many believe that change might come at the top with Fedora after consecutive losing seasons and a preseason sneaker scandal that cost him multiple players, including several starters, at various points of the season.
Fedora said he didn’t know how today’s outcome would affect his future at UNC, simply stating, “We’ll find out.”
Fedora said he plans on being at UNC and the returning players like wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams plan on using this season as fuel for 2019.
“This offseason we plan on making sure everything is fine-tuned,” Ratliff-Williams said. “Let this be a building block or a stepping stone.”
Fortin and Williams are good starts to build around, and the Tar Heels’ offense proved that it was fully functional for the most part, racking up 429 yards compared to 406 from N.C. State. But Fedora and Ratliff-Williams admitted their were too many plays there to be made that weren’t made, too many dropped balls, once again, a season with just one ACC win, just three seasons removed from an ACC Coastal Division title.
“We had opportunities to put the game away and failed to do it,” Fedora said. “It’s frustrating to the guys in that locker room. They’re the guys that are doing it, they’re the one who are working their butts off everyday, buying in to how we’re doing it. We have to find a way to get over that hump.”