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January 1, 2011

Rocky flop

This was not just another meaningless bowl game - not by a long shot.

This was not just another football game. It so far exceeded what we would call exciting on an ordinary day as to exist in a different realm.

In a city known for its songs, they played Carolina's music on Thursday night in Nashville, Tenn., while Volunteer bitterness rained down on the field at game's end.

A fifth-year senior quarterback saved the day by throwing the ball onto the ground to preserve one precious second, a singular second Carolina used to force overtime and eventually stage the most improbable victory in this bowl season and in UNC school history. This one will live alongside eight points in 17 seconds in basketball.

One probably has to weave through all the games played since the Stanford band took the field and aided and abetted a win against California to find a similarly amazing moment in college football.

No victory could more epitomize a team, from every coach to the last walk-on, for how it overcame a punishing number of injuries and offenses by players who shamed a school known for conducting its sports programs in the so-called right way. The manner in which Carolina defeated Tennessee in double-overtime should make it all the sweeter for the players, coaches and fans, who all know the card-carrying members of the ABC Club could probably be found vomiting in the nearest toilet after the game.

This is the year in which Carolina haters expected to see the school and the football program ruined in a disgraceful heap. While the hypocrites at the NCAA have not finished their dirty deeds just yet, there is no doubt the team did all it could to prevent the many anti-Heels (this has to include the announcers for the more than three-hour infomercial for Volunteer football, too) from getting their jollies.

Not only that, winning eight games and earning the eighth victory in this fashion should provide a springboard to an off-season of successful workouts and spring drills, an off-season that should get the team back on track to compete for the ACC championship in the near future.

Of course, the viral hypocrites at the NCAA could continue their campaign to hammer UNC while glossing over (see Auburn and Ohio State) offenses from schools that have long been suspected of paying for athletes, something UNC has not been accused of in this investigation.

The Music City Bowl led to some individual redemption as well. Shaun Draughn found himself watching from the sideline as Johnny White and Anthony Elzy took his job and ran with it throughout the regular season. He bounced back to gain a career-high 160 yards, scored a touchdown and earned the MVP award in his final game as a Tar Heel.

But no one showed his experience and resilience more than quarterback T.J. Yates. He did not have his finest game overall, such as when he threw for more than 400 yards twice this season. What he did do was respond to a Volunteer touchdown by marching UNC down the field in a matter of just moments before halftime to hit Erik Highsmith with a 39-yard TD pass to retake the lead 17-14.

Yates biggest play of the day lay ahead, however. With time running out in regulation and the field-goal team racing prematurely onto the field, Yates maintained his composure and spiked the ball to reserve one golden second for Casey Barth to kick the game-tying field goal to send the game into overtime.

And finally there was Quan Sturdivant, a linebacker who spent so much of his senior season injured, picking off a cocky Tennessee freshman quarterback and then making the smart play by just going to the ground so the UNC offense could finish the victory with almost certainty.

The whole evening is so remarkable it is still hard to fathom it occurred, but there was Butch Davis yelling "How about them Tar Heels" as bottles, cans, cups and who knows what else was flying from bitter Tennessee fans in the stands.

If there was any doubt how sweet this was for Carolina, that bitter rain cemented it.


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