Take us through the punt return and how it played out from your perspective.
“Well really I hadn’t made up my mind whether we were going to go for the block or set up a return and I was more concerned with – obviously I didn’t want to create a penalty on the block and so then the second thought was there is going to be somewhere around 30 seconds on the clock so if we could get maybe 10 yards on the return and then hit a couple passes, we figured we could probably get four to five plays in and maybe hit a couple of passes, and then put Casey [Barth] in a position to kick a game winning field goal and so that’s when we chose to go with the return and we decided to set up the wall.
"We had done it once one other time in a game and it was there, we just didn’t get to it. I had no idea that Gio [Bernard] was going to even go back in the game. I thought Roy [Smith] was going to go out there and do it and guys believed and he went out there and made it happen.”
Did you assume that Roy Smith was going to return the punt and then Gio Bernard made the decision to go out there himself? How did that decision get made?
“From my understanding Gio made it. He didn’t say, ‘Hey coach, can I go’, he went. When I turned around I just saw him waving Roy off. I think what I heard, and I don’t know if this is correct because I haven’t asked Gio, but I had heard that maybe T.J. Thorpe said something like ‘Hey, you need to go back there’ and I don’t know if that’s true or not, but we’ll find out from him later tonight.”
What was the locker room like when you addressed the team following the game?
“Before we even got to the locker room, that’s what I envision a crowd like in Kenan Stadium on every Saturday. That’s what it should be. That’s seven Saturday’s, that’s what that stadium should be like and that’s what it’s going to be like, but that was electric and it was loud from the beginning and it was loud all the way through that last play. That’s what it’s supposed to be like right there.
“By the time I got into the locker room Bryn [Renner] had already presented Gio with a game ball. I didn’t even know that and the guys were just excited. There were some tears shed. There were some guys that were just relieved for our seniors. They wanted it so bad for those seniors to go out with a win against State that it was really an emotional time in the locker room.”
How did you make the decision to go with the new helmets?
“This was back in the summer actually. We started talking about doing something special and really it started out I wanted to do something special for these seniors that decided to stay here, because they told me, ‘We’ve had this talk about helmets and uniforms, but we’ve never gotten anything.’ So I wanted to do something for them so we came up with the chrome idea and then it was what do we do on the side and it took forever to get it done just to get the big Tar Heel on the side.
“The players had no idea and you guys probably don’t even know they were wearing silver and blue shoes, those were brand new, but nobody noticed that. Nobody knew that they were wearing navy socks for the first time ever. None of those things were noticed and the guys were fired up because they were in the navy on navy with navy socks and new shoes and they thought they were wearing their white helmets and when they came back in the locker room I wasn’t in there, but they said it was like a bunch of little kids at Christmas running around and acting crazy so it was a lot of fun for them, I know that.”
The defense held N.C. State without points on 11 of its last 12 possessions, including forcing three turnovers during that stretch. Your defense gave you a chance to win the game.
“Yeah, if they wouldn’t have given up those big plays it would’ve been a heck of a game by our defense. We made them punt nine times. We haven’t done that to anybody this season and they punted nine times and then we got three turnovers. Really it would have been a heck of a showing if we don’t give up the deep balls.”
On Tommy Hibbard snagging a high snap that could have easily been a touchdown or safety for N.C. State:
“Play of the game. Play of the game. That’s the way I looked at it. For me, it was the play of the game, because Tommy is about 5-foot-2 and the ball was up there over 10 feet and he goes up and grabs it one-handed, still gets down and still is able to get a good punt off. That kid consistently is making plays for us. He converted two two-point plays and the second one was not planned no matter what anybody tells you, but that kid has made some really big plays for us.”
Have you had any discussions with Bernard about his plans following this season?
“No we haven’t talked about it actually. We have been pretty much focused on each and every game so it’s probably something that he and I will address after the season is over.”
How do you get more consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks?
“I’d like to do that through recruiting. We got to get more players and we got to get more guys that can come off the edge and we really need to be able to get pressure with four guys is what we need to be able to do and if you can do that then we can really become good.
“Kareem [Martin] was sick the entire game and did not play but just a few snaps so you had Jessie Rogers, a true freshman, out there playing 57 snaps and then you got Sly [Williams] on one leg. He’s been on one leg for about four weeks now so it’s just that time of the year. We’re beat up and it’s tough to get there and that’s why we threw Ebron over there.”
How do you balance the game with selling Carolina to recruits on visits on Saturdays?
“Our recruiting staff, on-campus staff does a great job and then what we do is once we come in from the [walkthrough] I get dressed as quickly as possible and get up to my office and then they start moving guys into my office and I’m really in there for maybe two minutes with them just thanking them for being here and we’re excited to have them and then all the coaches go upstairs to the fifth floor where we keep all the guys and they spend as much time, about 30 minutes, that we try and you do the best you can. You try to stay focused on what we’re there for, but at the same time recruiting is the lifeblood of the program so we got to do it and we had a lot of great players there on Saturday.”
How have you adjusted the schedule this week with no game this weekend?
“Really we haven’t done anything. They’ve been lying around in bed since the game. No, we went right back in on Sunday night and did like we’ve done every Sunday, put the game to bed, got all the corrections made. Then we came out and practiced on Monday, which is something we have not done the entire year. We got a practice in on Monday, we came back and practiced tonight.
“Probably got quite a bit of conditioning in actually on Monday and Tuesday and we spent more time, like today, about the first hour of practice was a lot of individual work, a lot of fundamental work and then after that we took all the younger guys and we had the ‘Heel Bowl.’ We scrimmaged for about an hour there as the older guys ran and got some conditioning in and then they came over and watched the game. It was lot of fun for those guys who aren’t out actually getting out there on Saturday’s and playing to be able to get out there and get after it in front of the coaches.
“We’ll practice tomorrow and then the guys will have off Thursday, Friday and Saturday and then we’ll come back in and we’ll have a much more extensive practice next Sunday.”
On the game:
“Yeah it was definitely exciting. I think the for the most part we wanted this for the Tar Heel nation. We wanted to win that one. Coming into this season with coach Fedora and his staff this is a game that we definitely highlighted and this is a game that we wanted to win not just for coach Fedora, but for the seniors and for this entire Tar Heel nation.”
Can you take us through the punt return?
“I messed up my ankle earlier in the game so I was a little wary about getting back out there on punt return. Once I saw Coach Fedora kind of call that call I guess you could say I called myself onto the field. I told my backup punt returner let me see if I can do something with this one and I knew there was a little less time on the game clock so I figured kind of like a high risk, high reward kind of thing. I know coach Fedora may not like that too much, but I saw the ball off his foot, it was a good ball and I knew from then on it was going to be something special from there. Once I caught the ball I immediately saw a bunch of blue jerseys to my right and a bunch of red jerseys to my left and the rest is history, really.”
What has allowed you to build on your success from last season?
“This guy right here, [Travis Bond]. These guys, [the offensive line]. Ever since last year we’re a real veteran kind of line and kind of running back duo and they’ve been able to open up holes for not just me, but A.J. Blue as well and Romar Morris. Anytime any of those guys get in there they’re carrying the ball, they’re carrying the load and hands down these guys right here. They do such a tremendous job upfront every single day. They’re grinding just as much as we are and they don’t get all the praise, but they really should and this is the one opportunity that sometimes I love to kind of praise those guys because of what they’ve done for me.”
What did that game mean to you as a senior?
“Coming into my senior year a lot of guys I’ve been playing with, we just thought about all the times, the five straight times losing to State. We just thought it was time for that to end and make this state back Carolina blue.”
What kind of challenge is it to move from guard to tackle due to Brennan Williams’ injury?
“It was a challenge, because I’m so used to being a guard and looking over to my right and seeing Brennan. With him down for the rest of the season it kind of hurt me as a person, because I’ve been playing with him for so long. Now that I see that he’s not there I feel like I owe him this, because he helped me through my time here at Carolina. So I feel like me out here playing at his position, it will just honor him and build something great to show other people that no matter where you’re playing at, you just do your job and get it done.”
"Larry Fedora Live" will air weekly in the fall on Tar Heel Sports Network affiliates, including UNC's flagship station (WCHL 1360AM/97.9FM).