Tar Heels focused on The Citadel, not their slim Coastal title chances

Despite their loss at Duke on Thursday, the Tar Heels remain alive in the ACC Coastal Division race because Virginia Tech also failed to take care of its business

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Duke cornerback Bryon Fields breaks up a pass to North Carolina wide receiver Austin Proehl during last year's battle for the Victory Bell in Durham (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

CHAPEL HILL –Virginia Tech’s loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday made a heartbreaking missed opportunity just a little more painful for the North Carolina football team. At the same time, it also presented the Tar Heels with an opportunity they might not otherwise have had. Had UNC taken care of its business and beat Duke on Thursday, the Hokies loss to the Yellow Jackets would have put the Tar Heels in the driver’s seat for a second straight ACC Coastal Division championship. As frustrating as that reality might be for quarterback Mitch Trubisky and his teammates, the other reality is that Virginia Tech wasn’t able to take care of its business either. So instead of clinching the division title, the Hokies left the door ajar for the Tar Heels. “There’s still a chance,” Trubisky said. “There’s still hope.” It’s going to take another Virginia Tech loss, to Virginia on Nov. 25, coupled with a UNC win against NC State a day earlier to turn that hope into reality. Because the odds are against that happening, the Tar Heels aren’t spending much time worrying about the possibilities — especially with a potentially dangerous nonconference game against undefeated FCS opponent The Citadel coming up on Saturday. “We have other things to play for besides a chance for the ACC championship,” Trubisky said. “At this point we’re focused on being 1-0, but it is comforting to know there’s still an opportunity to get that chance. A couple more things have to fall into place, but we’ve got to take care of business. We didn’t take care of business when we had the chance.” It was only minor consolation that Virginia Tech had the same thing happen to it. “I try to look at us,” safety Donnie Miles said. “We didn’t do our part. We lost this week, too. I’m not going to be relieved because another team lost. We lost, too.” That failure was made the more disappointing because of the way the Tar Heels lost to Duke. They jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead against their rival and appeared ready to coast to a similarly lopsided victory to the 35-point rout they put on the Blue Devils in Chapel Hill a year ago. Instead, UNC began making a series of uncharacteristic offensive mistakes that let Duke back into contention. It’s inability to stop the Blue Devils in key situations, combined with a late Trubisky interception led to a 28-27 defeat that cost the Tar Heels much more than just the traditional Victory Bell. The loss cast a pall over the team as the players trudged to their bus after the game. And for a day or two, coach Larry Fedora allowed them to drown in their sorrow. “They looked exactly like I expected they’d look and hoped they’d look,” Fedora said. “We talked about it, but it’s behind you now. You better learn from it. I told them ‘wallow in your misery. Go ahead. Wallow in it (Friday), wallow in it on Saturday and when you come back in here (Sunday), come in with a purpose to be the best we can possibly be. … We all know what we left out there.” Fedora said that his players have heeded his advice and practiced well in preparation for this weeks game. “We had a really good day (Sunday),” Fedora said. “They were down and we talked about what they needed to do when they came back ready to practice and to a man, I think they accepted that, did it and were ready to go.”