Turner's Take: Hurt
Quinshad Davis was despondent. The Tar Heel sophomore wide receiver sat alone on the fifth floor of the Kenan Football Center, idly looking at his phone. “I’ve never felt like this before, you know?” he said. “It’s really eating away at me right now, because I know I had the chance to put the game away, and I didn’t. So, I feel like I let myself down first as well as the team.”
Davis was referring to the final play of Thursday night’s 27-23 loss to Miami, in which quarterback Bryn Renner tried to hit Davis from 28 yards out as time expired. Renner had taken the shotgun snap, avoided the rush of Miami’s Tyriq McCord and delivered the football to the end zone. Davis got his fingertips on it, but with the Hurricanes’ Tyrone Cornelius defending, was unable to bring the ball in. Davis was right: if he makes that catch, the Tar Heels defeat unbeaten Miami. It wasn’t to be. After the second Thursday night game in Kenan Stadium history, the home fans left heartbroken again.
Quinshad Davis could have won the game for Carolina, but he certainly didn’t lose it. There were several opportunities for the Tar Heels to maintain momentum in a game that just slipped away. On three occasions, Carolina had first downs inside the Miami 15 yard line and settled for field goals. Those points - nine could have been 21 - added up (or didn’t, as it were). Fedora said this week that he was still looking for a game-changing play on special teams. Well, it happened, but it was Miami blocking a Carolina field goal attempt early in the second quarter and returning it for a touchdown. If Thomas Moore converts that field goal, or even if Miami simply doesn’t block it and score, that’s another huge point swing. Renner and Marquise Williams both threw costly interceptions, though the Tar Heel defense was able to turn Miami over four times.
But the sequence that will haunt Tar Heel fans for years to come happened with fewer than six minutes left in the game. “]It’s] what everybody’s talking about, on 3rd and 1,” Davis said. What everybody’s talking about is a costly delay of game penalty on a drive in which the Tar Heels might have been able to salt the game away.
On 2nd and 6, a Williams quarterback keeper got the ball to the Carolina 49 with 6:20 to play. It was less than a yard to the first down marker. With 26 seconds left on the play clock, Williams called for the team to huddle, and then Renner came onto the field. The Tar Heels broke the huddle and continued to make substitutions up until six seconds remained on the play clock. Renner looked back at referee Gary Patterson, and then went under center with one second left on the play clock as umpire Jim Eckl backed away from the ball. After the clock ticked down to zero, the ball was snapped. Too late. A delay of game cost the Tar Heels five yards. According to the NCAA rule book (rule 3-5-2-e), a team is not allowed to rush to the line of scrimmage after substituting to try and create a disadvantage for the defense. The defense is allowed to substitute and be ready for play before the ball is snapped. Carolina had planned to go off-tackle with A.J. Blue and needed just inches to continue the drive. The delay of game was an extremely costly penalty, and what’s even more maddening is the Tar Heels had three timeouts to work with. The team that preaches tempo and hurry-up tried to both burn clock and hurry up at the same time, and it cost them.
“Well I was hoping to pick up a first down,” Larry Fedora said after the game. “It was 3rd and 1 and we substituted and they felt like they needed to stand over the ball and we couldn’t snap it. I’m not sure I understand that yet, so I’ll have to get an interpretation there. Again, that’s my responsibility. That’s my fault we didn’t get that off.”
On 3rd and 5, the slightest movement from Jon Heck - he appeared to flex his right arm - was enough to be called for a false start. Suddenly 3rd and 1 became 3rd and 10. McCord sacked Renner on the next play to make for 4th and 14. “We would have gotten a first down and kept it moving, because we were moving the ball pretty well,” Davis said afterward. “But we got the penalty, then we got another penalty that backed us up even more and we didn’t get the first down, so that gave them a chance to get the ball back and make some plays.”
Tommy Hibbard got off a brilliant punt - the ball went out of bounds at the 10, but Carolina had wasted a crucial opportunity to put the Hurricanes away.
You know what happened after that: Stephen Morris and second-string tailback Dallas Crawford engineered a 90-yard touchdown drive that left just 16 seconds on the clock. Miami escaped with the victory.
It was a maddening result on what was otherwise a fabulous night. The Tar Heel fans showed up in full force - and in black, and the atmosphere was electric. Tight end Eric Ebron put on a show for both the fans and the many NFL scouts in attendance. He set a school record for tight ends with 199 receiving yards and had a handful of brilliant catches. The much-maligned Carolina defense came up with four interceptions and though Miami made big plays, the Tar Heels led for most of the game and had the opportunity to win. The one-win Tar Heels played their hearts out and nearly pulled off a win over a Top Ten team.
“Everything was great,” Davis said. “The crowd was into it. It was sold out and it gave us energy. The defense was out there playing their butts off because the crowd was giving them energy on 3rd and 1st down it was getting loud. I felt like we fed off their energy and played hard tonight.”
The Tar Heels were hurting after Thursday’s game, hurt by the outcome of a game into which they poured everything they had. On Friday, they’ll watch the game film, and then attention will turn to Boston College. There are six games to play and goals still within reach. But for now, hurt. “This is what we live for,” Ebron said, “And to leave everything we have on the field and to come up short . . . it just hurts.”