The Tar Heels stormed out of the gate to score on five of its six first-half possessions. And with just under 20 minutes left to play in the game, UNC had doubled score on visiting Syracuse at 34-17.
But later in the afternoon, and with Carolina fans in full celebration mode, things began becoming less and less comfortable in Kenan Stadium.
In the second time in as many games, UNC's defensive inadequacies reared their ugly head. The Orangemen took advantage and rallied to force overtime, eventually pulling out a miraculous come from behind victory, 49-47.
"This was devastating," said Darian Durant, who had earlier broken Chris Keldorf's record for career touchdown passes at Carolina. "We played our hearts out. To come up short in a game like this really hurts."
Entering the game, many thought the last team to score would be the winner, but that was not the case. Needing eight points to force a fourth overtime series, the Tar Heels got six when Durant found Derrele Mitchell alone in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
Then on the conversion attempt, Jacque Lewis took a shovel pass from Durant, but was stopped short of the goal line by reserve linebacker Kelvin Smith.
"We thought they were going to run a route and try to throw it to [Jawarski Pollock]," Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni said, "but he wasn't in the position that we anticipated, so I didn't know what was going to happen. We had planned to try to work [Smith] into the game, but when [Jameel] Dumas got hurt Kelvin had to go the rest of the way."
The game was over and the Orangemen and their fans erupted, while face down Tar Heels scattered the turf wondering what could have--what should have been.
"I had my eye on the ball," Lewis said. "By the time I caught it and turned to try and go into the end zone, he had closed in.
"It hurt, because I felt like I let my team down."
Carolina never should have had to try to battle back at all, but with 2:39 showing on the game clock, Collin Barber's field goal sailed through the uprights, topping off 17 unanswered points by the Orangemen in front of a stunned crowd.
Tied at 34-34, the game was headed to overtime--three to be exact.
The two teams exchanged touchdowns during their first possessions, with Durant matching Syracuse's score on a scramble and dive into the end zone.
The Tar Heels got the ball back at the 25-yard line with momentum but were flagged for a drive-killing holding penalty that pushed them back to face a first down-and-20 from the 35. Two plays later, Durant threw his first interception of the day, which ended the drive.
The Orangemen then ran the ball three times and set up Barber for 37-yard game winning attempt. But he hooked it, breathing new life into UNC and its fans.
That good feeling was gone, however, as quickly as it materialized. Walter Reyes ran 25 yards to paydirt on the first play of Syracuse's next possession for his third touchdown of the game. More importantly, he scored again on the two-point conversion to give the Orangemen a 49-41 lead.
"We gained momentum and we lost momentum," UNC head coach John Bunting said. "We gained it back only to lose it again."
The loss overshadowed several outstanding Carolina offensive performances.
Durant was 31-for-44 for 316 yards passing with four touchdowns. He now has 37 career touchdown passes as a Tar Heel, remarkably in just 12 starts.
"I'm happy [about the record]," Durant said, "but I was a lot happier in the third quarter."
Durant also led UNC rushing the ball with 69 yards on 12 carries, including a spectacular four-yard touchdown run in overtime.
"That run for a touchdown was absolutely amazing," Bunting said. "That was as good as any NFL highlight you'll see. He's outstanding."
Carolina's talent and depth at receiver was evident as four different wideouts and one tight end scored touchdowns. Pollock had a career high 10 catches for 95 yards, including a 15-yard scoring reception in the third quarter.
"It's easy to build on a game like this," Pollock said. "Everybody left everything they had out on the field. We've got to come back tomorrow and watch the entire game [on tape], and after that, we're not going to look at it any more. We've got to move on."
Willie Parker bounced back from a one-rush, four-yard performance last week versus Florida State, with 76 yards on 16 carries against Syracuse. Freshman Ronnie McGill, who threw for a touchdown, gained 29 yards rushing on 10 attempts.
Except for the upcoming bye week, things don't get any easier for the Tar Heels, as they travel to Wisconsin Sept. 20. However, the road trip may be good for them, as they have now lost a school record eight consecutive home games.
"This one stings a little more [than last week], because we really, really feel like we should have won," said Brandon Russell, who had his best game as a Tar Heel with five catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. "It's hard to say what happened. We didn't take advantage of some opportunities that we needed to. If we had, we would have had a better chance to win the game."
The shootout was an offensive coordinator's dream and a defensive coordinator's nightmare, as the two teams combined for 1,023 yards of total offense. The 96 combined points were the most in a Carolina game since UNC defeated Maryland, 59-42, in 1993.
The 47 points scored by Carolina were the most ever in a loss in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
It was the first-ever overtime game in Kenan Stadium.
"The main thing we have to do is bounce back," Durant said. "We have a week off and a long season ahead of us."