Larry Fedora knew something was wrong just from the way referee Ron Cherry was looking at him.
“Like I was an idiot,” the North Carolina coach said. “I didn’t know why he kept looking at me like that. Then I found out.”
Cherry announced that Middle Tennessee State had won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half, and North Carolina would … kick off? Somehow, Tar Heels receiver Quinshad Davis, the captain conversing with Cherry, contrived to ensure the Blue Raiders would get the ball to start the first and second halves.
Fedora was clearly unhappy with Davis, but North Carolina’s other captains said Cherry – famous among fans for his verbose penalty descriptions including his trademark “giving him the business” – played a role in the bizarre turn of events as well.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“(Davis) was just fumbling with his words, because the referee was confusing all of us,” said Tre Boston, one of North Carolina’s captains Saturday.
“When someone defers the ball, you definitely always want to receive after that,” said Jack Tabb, another captain. “It was kind of ridiculous that we didn’t. It was a little miscommunication. Probably let me talk next time, we’ll be all right.”
In the end, it didn’t matter as the Tar Heels shrugged off last week’s loss at South Carolina with a thorough victory over Middle Tennessee, showing improvement on both sides of the ball in a 40-20 win. But the five touchdowns the Tar Heels scored and the five turnovers they forced aren’t what anyone will remember from this game, not as much as the coin toss blunder.
Davis wasn’t made available to the media afterward, but Fedora, at least, was willing to laugh about it.
“That was our strategy going into the game. If we kicked off twice to them, we could help them out. We wanted to see if we could get more time with the defense on the field,” Fedora said. “It was just a miscommunication between the captains and myself I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The coin toss was the latest memorable moment and postgame talking point in a season that’s had more than its share around here already. The South Carolina loss was memorable largely for Kiaro Holts’ clip of Jadeveon Clowney, which made national news thanks to an incriminating replay and the stature of the victim.
N.C. State’s opener, meanwhile, was overshadowed first by quarterback Brandon Mitchell’s broken foot and later by first-year coach Dave Doeren taking aim at Carter-Finley Stadium’s halftime pass-out policy, a truth held to be self-evident among Wolfpack fans. Even this week, the No.1 news item regarding North Carolina football was the unsealed warrant accusing Jennifer Wiley of serving as Greg Little’s money mule.
It would be nice to get through one weekend without being distracted by these kind of sideshows, but then again, the action on the field so far hasn’t been quite as memorable, either. Even Fedora seemed slightly overwhelmed by these particular circumstances.
“It happened last year, too,” Fedora said. “Y’all remember?”
No one did.
“Which game?” Fedora was asked.
Fedora smiled and shrugged. He couldn’t answer the question because there was no answer. A check of last season’s box scores verified different teams kicked off in each half of all 12 UNC games.
Perhaps it happened at Southern Mississippi, or perhaps Fedora’s memory was clouded by the fact both Georgia Tech and Maryland ran the opening kickoff of the second half back for touchdowns against the Tar Heels.
Either way, it’s something else to talk about during North Carolina’s bye week.