With the Tar Heels football program seemingly experiencing new depths from week to week, the embattled coach and his much-maligned troops crafted the school’s most significant win since leather helmets were improved upon and facemasks were implemented.
On “Upset Saturday” in the ACC, Carolina’s 31-28 shocker over No. 4 Miami became official when the Tar Heels answered the Hurricanes’ game-tying touchdown, by driving 65 yards to set up a 42-yard field goal by Connor Barth as time expired.
“It was awesome,” said the Wilmington freshman. “It’s the best feeling in the world. I’ve never made a game-winner like that.”
Within minutes, both goalposts were razed, and many UNC players and coaches literally had their clothes ripped off their backs by the frenzied throng of fans.
With the victory, North Carolina (4-4, 3-2 ACC) catapulted itself within reach of bowl-eligibility and sole possession of fifth-place in the conference, with three games remaining – Virginia Tech, at Wake Forest and at Duke.
The currently unranked North Carolina Tar Heels -- currently with the statistically second-worst defense in the country, are within one-half game of a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference lead -- currently.
A win of this caliber could change everything.
“Man, it was huge,” Darian Durant said. “It just goes to so you anybody can be beaten on any given day especially in this conference. We worked hard; we had two weeks to prepare for them, and our coaches did a great job with the game plan.”
And Miami (6-1, 3-1) will have to wait another year for a chance at its sixth national championship, after being beaten by a team all but written off by many following a humiliating 46-16 loss at Utah two weeks prior. Instead, the Hurricanes returned to Coral Gables with their 10-game winning streak snapped.
“They outplayed us overall tonight and deserved to win the football game,” UM coach Larry Coker said. “We never even talked about a national championship. We did talk about beating North Carolina. That didn’t happen, and we’ve got four more games left in the season.”
Lost in all of the pre-game “non-hype” was the fact this would be senior tailback Chad Scott’s first start since transferring to UNC from Kentucky after the 2001 season. But the one-time all-SEC freshman, the fastest of the Tar Heel backs, had bided his time until now.
Scott rushed for a career-best 175 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. His 40-yard run in the second quarter tied a season and career best.
His previous career high was 117 yards against Mississippi State in 2001 when he played at Kentucky.
“I can’t say enough about Chad Scott,” Bunting said. “The young man had the game of his career. And what can you say about the offensive line and what they did tonight?”
Scott left midway through the third quarter with a right hip pointer, but quickly returned. His status for next week versus Virginia Tech could be in question however, has he had to be helped out of his chair following post-game interviews.
“I knew when I came out, I had to come back,” Scott said. “I knew I was running the ball well, and when I was receiving treatment I was still watching the game.”
There were numerous Tar Heel heroes on the night.
Durant threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
Tight end Jon Hamlett had five receptions for 84 yards, including a 22-yard reception to help set up the winning field goal.
Doug Justice and Jeff Longhany, who each recorded a tackle for loss, were instrumental in holding the Hurricanes to just 77 yards rushing.
“The defensive line also did a great job,” Bunting said.
And the UNC offensive line led by Jason Brown, Brian Chacos and company provided Durant plenty of time in the pocket.
In all, Carolina rang up 545 yards against a Miami defense that was allowing just over 300 per game.
The Tar Heels are now 2-4 against ranked teams this year and 13-55-1 all-time against teams ranked in the AP Top 10.
“I am very honored to as a head coach to be out there with those kids,” Bunting said. “This is absolutely a great win and I’ve been around a lot of them.”
Coupled with the Florida State and Florida losses, this is the first time all three Florida powerhouses have lost on the same day since 1978.
Furthermore, the Tar Heels silenced their critics on ESPN Game Day, who ridiculed the squad's chances against Miami.
“Tell Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Mark Maye, and all of the ESPN staff…they said we had no chance in hell of beating Miami,” Jesse Holley said. “They need to all break their pencils in two and chew on them.”