North Carolina Tar Heels: Living Dangerously but Winning Big

Oct 1, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA; North Carolina Tarheels kicker Nick Weiler (24) celebrates after kicking the game winning field goal against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA; North Carolina Tarheels kicker Nick Weiler (24) celebrates after kicking the game winning field goal against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports /

The North Carolina Tar Heels capped a memorable Saturday with a big field goal over the Florida State Seminoles.

The North Carolina Tar Heels may well kill their fan base before this season is over. The team sits at a comfortable 4-1 on the year. The way they got there is not very comfortable. Illinois and James Madison were blowouts sure, but the last two weeks against Pitt and Florida State have added new meaning to the word nail-biter.

Consider this, Mitch Trubisky has thrown for more than four hundred yards the past three games. The team has needed him to throw just about every one of those yards (aside from the James Madison yards). Against Pitt, he had to engineer a game winning drive that ended with no time left and Bug Howard in the end zone. Against the Seminoles, Trubisky needed a twenty-three second drive to set up a 54-yard field goal with essentially no time on the clock. That is incredibly clutch, assuming you were still conscious.

Also putting in a big effort is senior Ryan Switzer, who has been in double digit catches the last two games. Again the Heels have needed every one of them and several have been fourth down conversions.

The victory over number 12 Florida State (still ranked in the latest poll, by the way) was important for the Tar Heels on a number of levels. They beat an Atlantic Division power. They won a major road game. They kept pace with Miami and Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division race. It was a success in the big scheme of things.

However the game itself was an exercise in the bizarre. The Seminoles missed three field goals to start the game. The Tar Heels looked like they were on the verge of a 28-7 or 24-7 halftime lead when Elijah Hood fumbled near the FSU goal line and was injured in the scrum for the ball.

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The Seminoles came back over the early part of the fourth quarter. Dalvin Cook had made the Tar Heel defense into a bend-don’t break operation the entire game. He was especially dangerous in the short passing game where the flats went uncovered. He had a couple of touchdown plunges and the score was tied.

The Tar Heel defense showed some of their Pitt resolve, but they got no assistance during the comeback. A Tar Heel stop was wrecked when the FSU punter was roughed. The game still featured penalties (this time on both sides) that were agonizing.

With five minutes to go, the Tar Heel offense had the ball. For a pro-style team, this would have been an exercise in running out the clock and kicking the winning field goal. The Tar Heels do not have that kind of five minute offense, but that is how that cake is baked. You knew the Heels would score too soon.

With 2:31 on the clock they did just that. Walk-on Thomas Jackson took a pass and climbed his way thirty-four yards to the end zone. That’s okay, you told yourself. FSU can’t win, they can only tie. Then the extra point was blocked. FSU now had 2:31 to put the ball into the end zone to set up the winning PAT.

They did it in two. The young quarterback Deondre Francois pulled a Michael Vick-like dive to clear the end zone line. Maligned Ricky Aguayo booted it through and it once again looked like the Heels had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

There were still twenty-three seconds left. Now the Tar Heels quick fire scheme benefited them. Mack Hollins was able to snag a ball at the 48 on the first play. Hollins was also the key to next important play, a pass interference penalty that moved the ball fifteen crucial yards to the FSU 37.

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Fedora decided to kick. At this point I was glum. I had seen this before. This was Graham Gano against the Broncos. Except it was a longer kick and Nick Weiler did not have Gano’s good reputation or the thin Denver air. In my brain I thought I would rather have Trubisky throwing at Howard or Hollins in the end zone, not unlike what Tennessee would do to Georgia later that day.

I missed Weiler’s kick. I was looking right at it, but I was unable to see where the ball passed the uprights. I was sure he had missed it until the team started celebrating. Something had gone their way. 37-35.

To make things more infuriating, the last time UNC went to FSU and won was 2010. The final score was 37-35. They had a quarterback (T.J. Yates) throw for more than four hundred yards and won on a late field goal. That day however they had to sweat out a FSU field goal attempt at the end of the game.

Next: Florida State Preview

So the team is 4-1, 2-0 in ACC play. Virginia Tech is next and is coming off a bye week. They have beaten teams by big numbers and been beaten by Tennessee by a big number. The will be ranked 25, which means that the Tar Heels will have a second straight ranked opponent to play. It won’t get any easier for the Heels as they continue to defend that Coastal title.