Prior to the fourth quarter, the Wisconsin band came out on the field from the closed end zone and led 77,439 mostly Badger fans in a Cameron Crazy-like group bounce to the rousing background music of House of Pain's Jump Around. Right after that, Wisconsin broke open a close game that had been a shootout from the opening gun.
"We've got to find a way to win one of these games, " UNC head coach John Bunting said. "We were one score away from hanging with those guys for most of the game."
UNC (0-3) had just trimmed the lead back to eight points with a 51-yard field goal by Dan Orner at the end of the third period. But the Badgers' offense was clearly wearing down the upstart Heels.
UW quarterback Jim Sorgi then threw a 17-yard TD pass to Darrin Charles – a dagger in UNC's upset bid – that gave Wisconsin a 35-20 lead with 13:38 left to play. One week after being sacked eight times in a loss to UNLV, Sorgi enjoyed ample protection all day and passed for 126 and two touchdowns.
Carolina did show some improvement on defense, but still gave up 402 yards of total offense, on a day when Darian Durant was not at his best.
"Once we look at the film, I'm pretty sure we'll see we played a whole lot better," defensive end Isaac Mooring said.
Durant, the Tar Heels' all-time leader in touchdowns thrown, was held 139 yards passing. He also threw an interception and was sacked three times.
"I [felt pressure] back there, but that's something I should be used to by now," Durant said. "Instead of stepping up and looking to run, I need to keep my head down field and keep looking for my throwing options.
"Their ends got up the field real well," he said. "That may have made me think they had leverage on my tackle and made me feel like I had to run."
The Tar Heels charged out of the gate, serving notice they had come to play in the midst of a raucous Big Ten football atmosphere. Michael Waddell took the opening kickoff, made one cut and raced 97 yards for the game's first touchdown.
"I don't think I was touched at all," Waddell said. "The guys executed the scheme well and it just carried over to the game. It was a big play that just came to us."
Waddell's return equaled the third longest in school history and was the first Tar Heels' kick return for a touchdown since Kory Bailey returned one 95 yards to paydirt versus Georgia Tech in 1998.
After both teams exchanged punts, Wisconsin tied the score on Booker's first touchdown from five yards out.
On their next possession, the Badgers (3-1) were forced to punt for the second time in the first quarter, but a holding penalty pinned the Tar Heels at their own six. On the next play, Ronnie McGill was trapped in the backfield and fumbled, giving the Badgers 1st and goal. Three plays later, Stanley scored from one-yard out to give UW the lead, 14-7.
Four of Wisconsin's six scoring drives began in Tar Heel territory.
"We left a couple of short fields out there and they had a couple of long drives too," Bunting said.
Carolina got the ball back at the 50 by way of a 35-yard return by Waddell. The Tar Heels then tied it at 14-14 following a one-yard keeper by Durant. The score was set up by his third-down, 25-yard scramble on the previous play.
But the Badgers answered on their next possession with a seven-play, 80-yard drive, capped off by 44-yard touchdown reception by Lee Evans, who surpassed Al Toon as UW's all-time leading receiver.
Waddell returned the next kickoff 26 yards, but was hit by Patri Ellestad and fumbled the ball away. With 1st and 10 at the UNC 43, Wisconsin went back to Evans for a knockout punch, but Mahlon Carey intercepted the Sorgi pass to give the Tar Heels the ball back.
A 56-yard carry by Jacque Lewis, set up a 25-yard field goal by Dan Orner to cut the Badgers' lead to 21-17 with 5:14 left to play in the half.
On its next possession, Wisconsin drove to the UNC six, but for the second time in the game, a Carey interception stopped an almost sure scoring drive and kept the Tar Heels within striking distance at intermission.
The last Carolina player to have two interceptions in one game was Errol Hood versus Duke in 1999.
Trailing 21-17, Jim Leonhard took a punt from John Lafferty near midfield and was immediately nailed by Mike Mason. With no "halo" rule in effect this season, the hit appeared clean. The referee must have thought the play was close enough to wait before throwing his flag down on the two players.
Bunting was furious, and he became even angrier when an offensive holding call wasn't called a few plays later.
"They told me the hit was simultaneous – the tie goes to the runner," Bunting said in frustration. "I haven't seen that too many times in my lifetime."
Finally, aided by a pass interference call at the goal line, Stanley was able to score from the 1, to make it 28-17.
Backup quarterback C.J. Stephens and Jesse Holley connected on a 26-yard jump ball for a touchdown to end the game.
Jacque Lewis led North Carolina with 82 yards rushing on just six carries. Jawarski Pollock caught five passes for 67 yards, but dropped what would have seemed to have been a sure touchdown pass when the Tar Heels were knocking at the door with 8:48 left in the third quarter.
"We need to play smarter, because we really gave a tremendous effort as a staff and as players," Bunting said. "But we need to see if we can take it to another level."