Here was Nick Weiler, wearing that headband and looking like he just loaded the surfboard on top of the Wagoneer, talking in the aftermath of North Carolina’s 37-35 victory at Florida State on Saturday.
He’d just made a 54-yard field goal to win it as time expired. He’d just sprinted around the field doing the tomahawk chop. He’d just been at the bottom of a large pile of his teammates.
“I’m pretty sure I blacked out after making the kick,” Weiler said. “I’m not sure. I’ve never been that tired, ever, in a game. I don’t think I ever ran that much in a game. Apparently I ran the whole sideline. I don’t know.”
It was a delirious scene, the Tar Heels celebrating what was arguably their most important victory under coach Larry Fedora. UNC won the Coastal Division a season ago with an overtime victory at Virginia Tech. This, though, might have signaled UNC’s arrival on a national stage.
A look back at the good and the bad and everything in between:
Nick Weiler made the most important kick in school history.
Before Saturday, Connor Barth’s winning field goal against Miami was considered the most memorable, significant kick in UNC’s football history. And as impressive as Barth’s kick was, giving the Tar Heels a victory against the No. 4 Hurricanes, it’s no match for what happened on Saturday.
Weiler’s 54-yard field goal, which came as time expired on Saturday, instantly became one of the most memorable moments in school history. The celebration, with Weiler running down the field doing the tomahawk chop, will live on forever.
Here’s real the difference, though, between Weiler’s kick and Barth’s: Barth’s provided light during some dark times for the Tar Heels toward the end of John Bunting’s coaching tenure. Weiler’s field goal, meanwhile, provided UNC with the kind of breakthrough moment it has long sought.
The Tar Heels have been trending up under Fedora. The 11 consecutive victories last season, winning the Coastal Division. Fedora clearly has UNC headed the right direction. And that would have remained true even had Weiler’s kick sailed wide of the uprights or fallen short.
That it went through them, though, gave UNC the kind of nationally-significant, program-building victory that has been so elusive. Barth’s kick, as great as it was, didn’t have a lasting effect on the program. UNC’s victory at Florida State on Saturday, though, could – and should – pay dividends.
Mitch Trubisky leads a winning fourth-quarter drive, again.
Trubisky is starting to receive a bit of Heisman Trophy buzz and, if he keeps it up and if UNC keeps winning, why not? Why wouldn’t he be in the conversation?
All he did on Saturday was complete 31 of his 38 attempts for 405 yards and three touchdowns, and lead another winning drive on UNC’s final possession. Trubisky’s role wasn’t as prominent on that drive as it was the week before, when he completed three do-or-die fourth-down passes during the Tar Heels’ victory against Pittsburgh.
But he still played an integral role, nonetheless, and moved UNC to the Florida State 37-yard line, where Weiler did the rest. Trubisky is on pace for more than 4,000 yards passing and 31 touchdowns. He’s completing 76 percent of his passes and hasn’t thrown an interception.
The only downside of this, for UNC: Trubisky is playing so well that eventually it might not make sense for him to return to school next year.
THE NOT-SO GOOD
UNC’s defense allowed nearly 600 yards and 7.9 yards per play.
Look, in the past two weeks UNC has won games with two of the most incredible finishes in school history. Amid the jubilation that has followed, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the problems that plagued the Tar Heels in those victories.
And defense continues to be a problem. UNC allowed 595 yards on Saturday. It surrendered an average of 7.9 yards per play. It gave up a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes, when Florida State took a 35-34 lead with 23 seconds remaining.
The defense did some good things on Saturday, too. It contained Dalvin Cook reasonably well, and held him to 140 yards rushing and an average of 4.8 yards per carry. And when the Seminoles crossed midfield during the first half, the defense held its ground and forced long field-goal attempts that Florida State missed.
Relying on final-second heroics, though, is probably not a great long-term strategy for success. UNC’s victories these past two weeks have made for great stories and great theater. Those victories wouldn’t have been as sweet without what happened in the final seconds of both. Still, defensive problems remain.
Self-inflicted wounds nearly doomed the Tar Heels.
UNC led 21-0 early and then led 28-14 midway through the third quarter on Saturday. The Tar Heels nearly came undone, though, because of two mistakes in particular.
For one, Elijah Hood fumbled inside the Florida State 5-yard line moments before halftime. UNC could have taken a 28-7 halftime lead there or, at worst, a 24-7 lead. Instead, the Tar Heels squandered an easy scoring opportunity.
So that was one thing that nearly came back to haunt UNC. The other: the roughing the punter penalty midway through the third quarter. The Tar Heels were about to get the ball back with a 28-14 lead. Instead, the penalty kept alive a Florida State drive that ended with a touchdown.
That score helped the Seminoles build some momentum that aided their comeback.
THE LOOK AHEAD
UNC is 2-0 in the ACC, and firmly in control in the ACC’s Coastal Division – or at least as in control as a team can be after two conference games. The significance of Saturday’s victory can’t be overstated – neither in the long-term or the short.
In the long-term, it’s a program-shaping victory. In the short, it gives UNC a clear edge in the Coastal. The Tar Heels have won their most difficult game on their schedule. They can give themselves more of a cushion in the Coastal with a victory against Virginia Tech at home next weekend.