Every coach’s nightmare is to have a slim lead with two minutes left to go in the game, and the other team has the ball and is marching for the winning score. In this case, Miami starter Stephen Morris had left the game with a bizarre no-contact ankle injury, but backup Ryan Williams wasn’t showing any butterflies when he took the field.
Miami had driven the ball from its own 17-yard line with Williams at the helm, all the way down to North Carolina’s 29-yard line. A sack by Tommy Heffernan pushed the ball back to the 35 and set up a 4th-and-16 one play later with time ticking down. Williams completed the pass, but short of the first down marker.
UNC had won the game, and the defense had sealed the deal.
Nobody in UNC’s locker room was surprised.
“Honestly we go through this every week,” safety Tre Boston said. “We go through a two-minute with our offense up just like this and we have to stop them when they have more points than us, and honestly we’re just prepared for this. Coach Fedora does a great job preparing us in situations like this, and when you're prepared for situations like this, you know how to handle them.”
That added preparation, week-in, week-out, made a difference.
“We know what to do in those two-minute situations, we do it every Wednesday,” quarterback Bryn Renner said. “We go one’s against one's, we’ve been doing it since training camp. We have a great team here and no matter how adversity hits us, we’re going to respond.”
Kevin Reddick reflected back on a previous game this year, the disappointing finish at Wake Forest, where the outcome was different.
“It just gives us some confidence, getting this big win, and letting it be leaned on us," Reddick said. “We knew at Wake, we kind of caused that, so we wanted to come out this game and be physical. At the end of the game we wanted to get the turnover or get the stop. We knew it was on us. We held up to the challenge.”
There was another challenge – a game-long one against Miami’s deep passing game. Going into this contest, Miami led all ACC teams in passes greater than 40-plus yards – 11 such completions through six games. The Hurricanes longest reception on the day was a 23-yarder to Phillip Dorsett.
That didn’t happen by accident.
“The big thing was we didn’t give up any big balls over the top,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “If you watch on film, Miami has been able to get behind everybody, didn’t matter who they played, they’ve been able to do that. That was a point of emphasis this week, to limit the big plays. We knew we were going give up some things underneath, we understood that.”
What they gave up was 235 passing yards, while picking off Morris twice – and arguably should have been three times.
How did the Heels limit Miami’s deep ball?
“Obviously just staying deep, not letting guys get behind us,” Boston said. “Making sure we stayed, honestly, deeper than the deepest. That was my job this week, making sure nobody gets behind us. South Florida boys can run and that’s exactly what I am, I’m just running with the best of them.”
For a secondary and a defense that has played second fiddle all season to UNC’s offense, it was a good feeling for the defensive players.
“They’ve put us on their back plenty of times, “ Reddick said. “This was our first opportunity to get the whole team on our back and we did a great job with it.”
Any win is a good win, and it doesn’t get much better than an ACC road win. It wasn’t the shootout most expected, but Fedora will take it.
“We made the plays when we had to – the defense stepped up at the end. We put it on their back and they got it done.”