Late season losses to rivals Duke and NC State prevented the North Carolina football team from accomplishing most of its goals this season and forced the Tar Heels into a bowl much farther down the ACC’s postseason food chain than desired. But there’s one goal still within the reach of coach Larry Fedora and his team, regardless of where they were selected to play. It’s an objective they’ll get the chance to realize against Stanford on Dec. 29 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tex. “One of our goals from the beginning of the season was to win our last game,” Fedora said Sunday, after learning of UNC’s selection. “So this goal is still sitting right in front of us. It will be a tremendous challenge against Stanford because of the strength of their team.” UNC (8-4) was picked to win the ACC’s Coastal Division and play for the conference championship for the second straight year. But after getting off to a strong start, including an upset of Florida State in Tallahassee, it faltered down the stretch. The November setbacks cost the Tar Heels a shot at playing in one of the so-called New Year’s Six games or at least close enough to home to allow more fans to travel with them. But while Fedora said that there are reasons to be disappointed about the way the season has turned out, the venue of the bowl game in which his team is playing isn’t among them. “Any time you set goals and don’t attain them, you’d probably feel a little disappointed in yourself and that’s what I think this team feels right now,” Fedora said. “We didn’t achieve all the things we wanted to. But the last goal we had in place is to win that last game and I think this group of seniors wants to make sure they go out on the right note.” Like UNC, Stanford had higher hopes than the Sun Bowl when the season started. But its season was derailed in early October with three losses in a stretch of four games. The Cardinal (9-3) did regroup to win its final five games and finish on a high note. “Starting at the midpoint of the season, I made it a point not to care what anybody else did outside of our building,” Stanford coach David Shaw said via teleconference. “We decided to get back to work, play as hard as we can and be grateful for whatever opportunity came our way. “We’re not in the business of worrying about how we got to where we are. We’re just grateful to have the opportunity we have.” The game against Stanford will mark the 33rd bowl appearance in UNC history and the fifth time it has played in the Sun. They split the previous four games, beating Texas Tech in 1972 and Texas in ’94 while losing to Mississippi State in ’74 and Texas in ’94. The Tar Heels and Cardinal have played twice before, with each team winning on its home field in 1997-98. While UNC relies heavily on an offense that averages 442.4 yards per game, Stanford’s strength is its defense, which has surrendered an average of just 20.17 points. The Cardinal’s offense features one of the top individual talents in the nation in running back Christian McCaffrey, who has rushed for 1,603 yards, caught 37 passes for 310 yards and averages 22.7 yards per kickoff return. McCaffery’s prowess in the running game will be a particular concern for the Tar Heels after giving up a bowl record 645 yards on the ground in a 49-38 loss to Baylor in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl. “We know we have the opportunity to play a very strong Stanford team,” Fedora said. “We understand it will be a tremendous challenge for us. ” I don’t know a whole lot (about them). I know they’re extremely well coached. Being on this side of the country, I don’t get to stay up late enough to see many of their games. They had some losses from what I understand early on in the year that prevented them from reaching the goals they wanted to reach. But it looks like they’ve done a tremendous job in winning the last five.” Tickets to the Sun Bowl are already on sale, with a priority seating deadline for Rams Club members and 2016 season ticket holders on Tuesday. The general public can purchase tickets by clicking on GoHeels.com.
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