The two-yard hail mary was one of the most--if not the most--improbable plays I have ever seen work out to NC State's benefit. How weird it's been these last few years to see NC State shit shifted over to the UNC side. For a long time (poor Mike O'Cain) it seemed like every time there was a close game, it ended in the Tar Heels' favor. They made the breaks at the end. I can hardly believe how fortunes have shifted, but it's nice. It's really nice.
TOB's decision to go for that fourth down came as a complete surprise. I'll admit that in that situation, late in the third quarter, down two scores, I kind of felt like a field goal was the right decision. Despite myself and my constant harping on aggressive fourth down calls. Statistically, going for it was the right move, but under the pressure of the circumstances I was willing to cave right there. Good thing TOB wasn't. Just a few minutes later, State had the lead despite a pretty weak performance to that point. Unreal.
It was not a good day for the offense by any measure. North Carolina's defense is solid but gave us more trouble than we could have anticipated. Russell Wilson forced another throw that resulted in a baffling interception. T.J. Graham had a beautiful throw bounce off his facemask for an incompletion, a potentially symbolic moment that thankfully was not to be. It wasn't until late in the game that we were able to find any sort of success on the ground.
No matter. Sometimes one miracle play is enough.
It was a Carolina possession early on where I felt certain we were doomed. No matter how many times in a row we beat the Heels, I think that's always going to be my brain's default at the first sign of adversity. We blitzed and the Heels completed a quick but short throw. C.J. Wilson failed at tackling again, and the Anthony Elzy ran down field where Brandon Bishop whiffed in comical fashion; the result was a huge gain, the first big play of the game.
While the big picture was not pretty--Carolina averaged 5.8 yards per play--the defense did an excellent job against the run and forced a field goal attempt on three of Carolina's four trips to the red zone. The Heels managed just 98 yards on 22 plays in the second half, less than 4.5 per snap. They put the team in a position to win the game in the margins, and that's what happened.
Man, what can you say about Josh Czajkowski? He was supposed to be done for the season, but instead was back kicking field goals two weeks after a bad hamstring injury. If you remember his 48-ish yarder against Maryland last season, you'll remember that it barely cleared the crossbar. Against he Heels he nailed a 47-yarder that had distance to spare; it would prove one of the clutchest field goals of his career.
Hawthorne did a solid job on kickoffs, and the coverage cooperated.
And then there was T.J. Graham. We'd had nearly every kick return called back on a penalty, so the shock of his punt return TD was extended a painful few seconds as I waited for the inevitable FLAG graphic to show itself on Raycom's scoreboard. Football isn't the greatest sport in the world, but man oh man, it's moments like that that make it awesome.