“[I had] tears of joy the whole pre-game,” he said. “I was just out there crying and jumping around. I was just so glad to be back out there.”
After being held out for the first three games of the season while his status was being sorted out amidst the football program’s investigation, his first game back was a memorable one. Not only did the senior safety help stabilize the young secondary’s morale, he delivered big plays both in the secondary and in the return game. While many other Tar Heels contributed to the win over East Carolina, the contributions of Searcy were even more notable in light of his prior absence.
The biggest play from Searcy came when the Tar Heels trailed 14-7 with just 2:53 remaining in the first half. He picked off a Dominique Davis pass and returned it down the sideline 46 yards for a touchdown, shifting the momentum to the Tar Heels.
“All week long we had been talking about the option route,” Searcy said with a broad smile. “When I saw that, I drove it, and I guess the receiver gave up on the route. The quarterback threw it and I was right there.”
It was the spark that UNC needed.
“Da’Norris Searcy’s interception was really very much needed at the time,” head coach Butch Davis said. “It really kind of helped spur on the defense.”
His return to the field also had an emotional impact on his teammates -- before, during, and after the game. “All yesterday in the hotel, they kept asking me if I was ready,” Searcy said. “I was like, ‘C’mon man, this is what I do.’ I was just glad to be back out there with the guys.”
Those teammates were glad to have him.
“He plays emotionally, I’m an emotional player so I definitely fed off that,” said Shaun Draughn, who rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns.
Linebacker Kevin Reddick, who had an interception of his own, added: “(If felt) great (to have Searcy back on the field), because even though I know the younger guys are good, I just know he knows a lot more.”
Gene Robinson added another pick, making it three ECU turnovers to UNC’s none.
“I think they love the fact that some of them do get a chance to come back,” Davis said. “They’re close, I mean, a lot of these kids are obviously very close as far as friendships are concerned.”
Searcy’s impact was also felt on special teams. A first half kickoff return of 35 yards by Searcy was the longest on the season to date for the Tar Heels, and he had a twenty-yard punt return to give UNC good field position on their first possession of the fourth quarter.
“(In the preseason) Da’Norris was our No. 1 returner both in kickoff and punt returns, and our No. 2 and No. 3 are still not playing … it was good to get Da’Norris back,” Davis said. “He’s confident, he’s poised, he’s been in games, he’s returned kicks, and we hope that role will continue to grow, but it was very much a welcomed addition to our team.”
As glad as he is to be back, Searcy looks forward to the return next week of free safety and fellow senior Deunta Williams, who will be coming off a four game suspension.
“That’s my brother,” Searcy said. “We call each other “The Bash Brothers.” I know if I can look to my left or my right and see ’27,’ I look at him like, ‘It’s go time.’ and then he looks at me and says, ‘Yeah, it’s go time.’
Williams has, however, a heck of an act to follow.