But in the end, Carolina simply didn't have enough, and the Florida State Seminoles
pulled away for a 40-14 victory before a sellout Homecoming crowd of 81,910
at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"It's just another loss in the loss column which is very disappointing,"
said UNC coach John Bunting. "We had some opportunities and some players
did step up. We'll see a lot of good things on tape I'm sure. (But) this is
very, very difficult for us right now."
Trailing 20-0 midway through the third quarter, UNC quarterback C.J. Stephens
led the Heels (2-9, 0-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) on an impressive 86-yard
scoring drive. Stephens did most of the damage either with his legs - tough
runs - or arm, as he completed passes to tight ends Zach Hilton for 25 yards
over the middle and Bobby Blizzard for 14 yards, also over the middle, but that
one for a touchdown to cut the margin to 20-7 with 3:53 left in the third quarter.
"We took two shots there," Blizzard said about the possession. "We
tried to get me the ball to me twice. The first one he (Stephens) led me too
much, but on the one I scored was the same play, right up the gut, and he hit
me with it."
But the biggest play of the drive was made by wide receiver Sam Aiken. Jacque
Lewis rambled 38 yards up the middle but fumbled while being dragged to the
turf, but Aiken recovered the ball at FSU's 14. Two plays later the Heels scored.
"We've had a bad habit of putting together some good drives and not quite
being able to finish or making mistakes," said Stephens, who completed
16 of 40 passes for 175 yards and a score. "And on that drive we really
maintained throughout and didn't make any mistakes (overcame the fumble). So
it was big and we needed a score at that time. It would have been nice put more
together like that, but we're still learning."
But Bobby Bowden's team responded, as the 'Noles (8-3, 7-0) marched 65 yards
to take a 26-7 lead with 2:50 left in the third quarter on Anquan Boldin's third
TD reception (single-game career high) of the day, this time a short 4-yard
fade from Adrian McPherson.
"That was tough because we were really in the game at that time,"
said cornerback Kevin Knight, who blocked an FSU field goal attempt in the first
half. "But they came right back and scored, and it was a struggle after
Enabling FSU's score was a costly offsides by UNC on a third-and-two from the
22. Two plays later the 'Noles hit pay dirt.
FSU then held Carolina three-and-out, and while lining up to punt from its
own 18, UNC was flagged for illegal motion as well as an illegal snap. The ball
was snapped off the legs of protection man Jacque Lewis and bounced forward.
The 'Noles recovered at UNC 21 and cashed in five plays later when McPherson
found Talman Gardner cutting toward the end zone for a 20-yard score, and the
Seminoles were in control, 33-7, with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Seminoles tacked on another TD for the final margin. But at least UNC was
in the game late in the third quarter. And for Bunting, that's progress.
"I felt all through the first half that our defense did an incredible
job in some very difficult situations," Bunting said. To the players' credit,
they battled. They came down here to play and I'm proud of them for that reason."
Carolina was credited with nine pass deflections on the day. The Heels also
blocked an FSU field goal attempt, had a pair of sacks, limited the 'Noles to
5-13 on third downs, held the Seminoles without a touchdown three times in the
red zone, and showed improvement with lateral movement and tackling on defense.
"I am proud of this defense today," Knight said. "Even though
the score doesn't show it, those guys fought their butts off all four quarters,
60 minutes, no matter what the score was. Everybody was fighting, flying to
the ball, tackling better."
Of UNC's missed opportunities were five drops of Stephens passes, a penalty
nullifying a converted third down, and two drops (Malcolm Stewart and Knight)
that would have been interceptions, with Stewart's possibly going for six, and
the other keeping FSU out of the end zone on that possession.
After a scoreless opening quarter, the Seminoles finally got on the scoreboard
with 10:26 left before halftime on a 47-yard field goal by Xavier Beitia. FSU
appeared to be heading toward the end zone but excellent pass coverage, a penalty
and a sack by blitzing cornerback Derrick Johnson forced FSU into the long kick
"I think we had a lot more success (blitzing) today," Bunting said.
"I'm proud of the way they played today and the way they executed the (defensive)
The Seminoles quickly scored on their next possession, as Boldin caught a short
toss by McPherson and ran 43 yards into the end zone to give FSU a 10-0 lead
with 7:06 left in the half.
FSU closed the first half on an eight-play, 85-yard scoring drive capped by
a 19-yard scoring pass from McPherson to Boldin, who leaped the grab the ball
while crossing the goal line. The point after made it 17-0 with 46 seconds left
The Tar Heels had a shot to get on the scoreboard late in the half after moving
to FSU's 36, keyed by a 22-yard reception for tight end Blizzard. But Dan Orner's
54-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright, and Carolina trailed 17-0
Beitia tacked on another three points with a 31-yard field goal to give FSU
a 20-0 advantage with 7:37 left in the third quarter.
"We will learn from this experience," Bunting said. "I brought
a lot of guys down here. I wanted them to be down here to see what it's like
to play Florida State, who is the class of our conference, so when we come back
here in two years a lot of those guys have the understanding of what the environment
is down here."
At a point in the season where progress is measured with baby steps, UNC crawled
a bit. And it's clear that the program is looking directly into the future.
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He
hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and
can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.