North Carolina 43, NC State 35

Associated Press
Posted Oct 27, 2012


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Gio Bernard fielded the punt, saw nothing but blue jerseys to his right and headed that direction with the final seconds ticking away.

He didn't stop until he had reached the end zone - and finally halted North Carolina's five-year losing streak to its biggest rival.

Bernard returned a punt 74 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left Saturday, capping a fourth-quarter rally by the Tar Heels in a 43-35 win against North Carolina State.

"I still can't believe it," Bernard said of the return. "I'm still shaking right now."

The punt return capped a huge day for the sophomore tailback, who ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He also had eight catches for 95 yards to lead the Tar Heels (6-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who trailed 35-25 entering the final period in a back-and-forth game that lived up to the rivalry hype.

North Carolina hadn't beaten the Wolfpack (5-3, 2-2) since Tom O'Brien took over in Raleigh in 2007, but stopped that skid under first-year coach Larry Fedora a week after losing at Duke on a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final seconds.

A day after that game, Fedora had the UNC locker room filled with red ribbons, posters and other N.C. State material as reminders of the Wolfpack's dominance. His team responded with its best offensive output against N.C. State since scoring 52 in the 1996 victory.

UNC had never lost six straight in the series that began in 1894.

"This wasn't just a regular win," senior defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said. "This wasn't us going out and playing against any other school. This was a team we wanted to beat and we've been harping on beating all year."

When it was over, several UNC players jumped into the front row of the student section near the end-zone tunnel to celebrate before heading to a locker room filled with plenty of tears.

"It felt like we did something right, something that needed to be done - not only for us but for everyone," said tight end Eric Ebron, who also played snaps at defensive end.

Mike Glennon threw for a career-high 467 yards and five touchdowns to lead N.C. State, which led 35-25 on his 55-yard pass to Bryan Underwood with 39 seconds left in the third quarter. But he completed just one pass for 8 yards in the final quarter, missing on his last six attempts, while his receivers dropped at least a half-dozen balls on the afternoon.

N.C. State had won two straight - including an upset of then-No. 3 Florida State on Oct. 6 - and was in control of its own destiny in the ACC's Atlantic Division. Instead, the Tar Heels, who are banned from a bowl for NCAA violations, knocked their rivals back with a stunning finish after blowing their own big lead.

"I think I've never heard it that quiet (in the locker room) in my five years here," said Wolfpack cornerback C.J. Wilson, who had an end-zone interception and a fumble recovery. "It hurts. People are upset."

After leading 25-7 late in the first quarter, the Tar Heels - who wore all navy blue uniforms with a chrome helmet bearing a giant footprint logo instead of the traditional interlocking "NC" - tied the game at 35 on Casey Barth's 34-yard field goal with 1:24 left. Then they forced the Wolfpack to punt with about 30 seconds left.

Bernard fielded the punt inside his own 30, then headed right behind a fleet of blockers. Bernard - who had rolled his right ankle earlier in the second half - broke free down the right sideline in front of the Wolfpack bench for the score, setting off a wild celebration in Kenan Stadium's blue-filled end zone.

UNC punter Tommy Hibbard then managed to complete his second two-point conversion pass of the day to Jack Tabb to push the lead to 43-35. And when Tobais Palmer fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the Tar Heels were finally in position to celebrate.

The winning score was Bernard's first punt return of the second half due to the ankle injury. It was also the first punt return for a TD by a UNC player in the series since 1986.

"He wants the ball in his hands," Fedora said. "He wants the opportunity to make a play. Some people look at that, they get nervous because 'everybody's looking at me' in the situation. Not him. That's when he excels."

Bryn Renner threw for 358 yards and a touchdown, while Erik Highsmith also ran for a touchdown on a 45-yard reverse on UNC's second possession.

Underwood had six catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns for the Wolfpack, who held the Tar Heels scoreless from late in the first until Renner's 3-yard scoring toss to Sean Tapley made it 35-32 with 10:23 left.

"We played hard for 60 minutes," O'Brien said, "and the last 30 seconds of the game got us."


Related Stories
UNC-NCSU: Fedora Postgame
 -by InsideCarolina.com  Oct 27, 2012
UNC-NCSU: Postgame Audio
 -by InsideCarolina.com  Oct 27, 2012
UNC-NCSU: Photos of Bernard's Game-Winner
 -by InsideCarolina.com  Oct 27, 2012

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