History repeats itself as UNC suffers second straight rivalry setback

The Tar Heels failed to match NC States intensity and execution in suffering another upset at the hands of another more motivated in-state rival

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Matthew Dayes reaches out ahead of UNC defenders M.J. Stewart and Cayson Collins for a touchdown during last year's game at Kenan Stadium (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

CHAPEL HILL — After losing to Duke two weeks ago, North Carolina defensive tackle Nazair Jones stood outside the visiting locker room at Wallace Wade Stadium and lamented the fact that the Blue Devils wanted the game more than his Tar Heels. Then he vowed that he and his teammates wouldn’t let it happen again. But Friday at Kenan Stadium, that’s exactly what UNC did. The Tar Heels failed to match NC State’s intensity and execution in suffering another upset at the hands of another more motivated in-state rival. This time it was a 28-21 loss to the Wolfpack that officially ended their Coastal Division championship hopes. “These rivalry games require a little more,” running back Elijah Hood said. “You’ve got to have that fire and intensity, and I think maybe the two teams we played against had a little more fire than we did. “It’s the kind of thing where you have to have a certain intensity when you play your rivals. Those guys are coming out to take everything they can and you have to be prepared for everything.” It’s not like the Tar Heels weren’t warned about what to expect. On the afternoon of the Duke game, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik warned his players that they’d be asking for trouble if they didn’t bring an “A” effort to the nationally televised Thursday night game. He voiced his concern again earlier this week when he told his defense to be wary of a Wolfpack team that would do anything it takes — including the use of trick plays — to get the win it needed for bowl eligibility. Chizik’s words again went unheeded as State caught the Tar Heels by surprise on a perfectly executed 59-yard touchdown pass from fullback Jaylen Samuels to a wide open Stephen Louis that got the Wolfpack off and running. “All the stuff that happened to us, it was our fault,” Jones said. “We talked about it nonstop all week, before the game, during the game, everything. But they still seemed to find a way to make those plays work.” The Wolfpack burned its rival on another trick play later in the first quarter, a flea flicker that would have gone for a big gain on a pass from quarterback Ryan Finley to tight end Cole Cook had it not been called back by a holding penalty. While State was in the process of knocking UNC back on its Heels, coach Larry Fedora’s team has having trouble executing the most basic of plays. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky fumbled a handoff on his team’s second possession, leading to another Wolfpack touchdown while usually reliable receivers Bug Howard, Austin Proehl and Hood all dropped passes on the way to a 21-7 halftime deficit. It was at that point Fedora decided to resort to some trickeration of his own. All of which backfired. UNC missed an opportunity for a momentum-changing onside kick recovery to start the second half when — during an official review of the play — reserve linebacker Ayden Bonilla was caught blocking before the ball went the required 10 yards. Things got even worse shortly thereafter with a sequence that left Fedora wide open for second guessing. Instead of giving the ball to power back Hood on a third-and-one play from the State 8-yard line, the Tar Heels had speed back T.J. Logan run off a direct snap. He was stopped for a one-yard loss. Then on fourth down, wide receiver Ryan Switzer misfired on a throw back to quarterback Trubisky to turn the ball back over to the Wolfpack. “We called what we worked (on),” Fedora said. “We do it every week. When it works, everybody loves it. When it doesn’t, they can criticize it. That’s just the way the world works.” In this case, though, the missed opportunity helped bring about an all-too-familiar feeling for the disappointed group of Tar Heels — especially a senior class whose legacies have been damaged by back-to-back rivalry losses.”That’s two in-state rivals that on the field, we really don’t like,” junior cornerback M.J. Stewart said. “For the seniors especially it sucks and I feel for them. I’m a part of this loss just like I’m a part of this team and having the seniors go out having lost to Duke and State, my heart goes out to them.”