UNC’s game day captains - Quinshad Davis, Jack Tabb, Norkeithus Otis and Tre Boston – trotted out to midfield minutes before kickoff for the coin toss. What followed was miscommunication between coaches, players and referee Ron Cherry.
NCAA Rule 3-1-1-d states the following:
The winner of the toss shall choose one of the following options:
- 1. To designate which team shall kick off.
- 2. To designate which goal line his team shall defend.
- 3. To defer his selection to the second half.
Middle Tennessee State won the toss and elected to defer. Davis, according to Boston, had been instructed by Fedora on how to handle the situation. The obvious choice would be to take possession since the Blue Raiders would receive the ball to open the second half. That, however, is not what occurred.
"It happened fast,” Tabb told reporters following UNC’s 40-20 victory. “They deferred it and they looked at us and Quinshad said something. There was a miscommunication between him and the [referee]. Then Tre said, ‘Kick it anyways.’ I was like, ‘Hold on,’ but they were just like, ‘We'll kick it, it's fine.’ We just went with it.”
When asked if he had any communication with the referee, Boston replied: “No, no, I didn’t at all. It was something I was trying to help Quinshad with what to do. He was just fumbling with his words because the referee was confusing all of us.”
Quarterback Bryn Renner said he was “stunned” by the news that UNC would not receive in either half.
“I asked Quinshad about that and got a clarification, but I think he just misunderstood the referee,” Renner said. “I hope that doesn’t happen next week.”
Fedora, while visibly furious with Davis after the captains came off the field, joked about the incident during his postgame press conference.
“Well, that was our strategy going into the game,” the second-year UNC head coach said. “We felt like it would help them out and wanted to see if we could get more time with the defense on the field.”
All joking aside, North Carolina was fortunate Middle Tennessee State didn’t capitalize with a touchdown on its opening possession. The Blue Raiders had a 1st-and-goal at the half-yard line before Logan Kilgore threw an interception to Boston in the back of the end zone.
"I wasn’t real happy," Fedora continued. "I didn’t really listen to what they were telling me. I’m not sure exactly when I realized it. When I was talking to the guys on the sideline about getting ready and all of a sudden someone said we’re kicking off and I said 'Okay.'
"Then Ron Cherry was looking at me like I was an idiot. I didn’t know why he kept looking at me like that. Then I found out afterwards. It’s a poor job on my part.”
Fedora said he would make sure it never happened again before adding even more confusion to the situation.
“It happened last year, too," he said. "Y’all remember? Okay. Good.“
Except that no one remembers. There’s no record of it happening in 2012 and various Tar Heels talked about never seeing it happen before.
While rare, UNC is not alone in botching the coin toss decision.
In 2010, Nebraska won the toss against Missouri and elected to kick instead of deferring.
“That wasn't by choice,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said following the game. “Our captains made a little mistake.”
In 2007, Southern Cal lost the coin toss, but quarterback John David Booty elected to kick despite Nebraska deferring to the second half. Former USC head coach Pete Carroll later told reporters that the referee asked Booty if he really wanted to kick after the initial decision was made. Booty once again confirmed, “Yes.”
Neither blunder prevented victory, but that wasn’t the case for Virginia in 2003. When former head coach Al Groh elected to kick off after winning the coin toss against Maryland, the Terrapins promptly celebrated and received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Maryland gained one extra possession in the game and won 27-17.