First Person: Tommy Tackles T.A.
Yesterday, Adam ranked the top three Tar Heel wins of the games he's seen in person between Carolina and N.C. State. Coming in second on that list was the 2004 battle between the 25th-ranked Wolfpack and the 2-3 Tar Heels from October 9, 2004. Carolina led 13-9 until there were 45 seconds left in the third quarter, when T.A. McLendon gave the Wolfpack the lead. The home team struck back quickly with touchdown tosses to Adarius Bowman and Jon Hamlett in the span of less than two minutes, with help from a 54-yard Larry Edwards (remember him?) interception return. State got back within three points when Bobby Washington followed up a touchdown run with a two-point conversion. Connor Barth made it 30-24 with a 25-yard field goal on the next Tar Heel drive.
At 4:27 of the 4th quarter, State began at their own 18. The Wolfpack steadily moved downfield with completions from quarterback Jay Davis to T.J. Williams and a 39-yard Richard Washington run. A third-down conversion to Brian Clark set the Wolfpack up with 1st and goal at the Tar Heel 6. After T.A. McLendon rushed for three yards, Chuck Amato took a timeout with 30 seconds to play.
What happened next would go down in rivalry history.
2nd and Goal at the Tar Heel 3. "At that point in time, we just knew we had to come up with a stop," says former Carolina defensive end Tommy Davis, now a graduate assistant under Larry Fedora. "It was a situation that every defensive player dreams about, making one of the game-changing plays, or a game-winning play."
McLendon took the ball from Jay Davis and reached toward the end zone, but Tommy Davis had him wrapped up. "I tackled him from the side," Davis says. "The play was a split zone and the fullback tried to take me out. I got around the fullback and I hit him from the side." One of the officials signaled touchdown, but a linesman rushed in to assert that McLendon's knee was down. Davis says in rolling McLendon over, he'd forced the knee to the ground. "There was no doubt. I knew he was down. I knew I had his knee down before he crossed the goal line."
Head referee Jim Knight agreed, and after a Carolina timeout, State had 3rd and goal at the 1. "How are you going to stop T.A. from a half a yard?" Mick Mixon asked on the radio broadcast. McLendon took the ball and leaped into Khalif Mitchell. The ball came out and fell directly into the hands of Tar Heel safety Kareen Taylor. Ballgame.
"You always take it one play at a time, but still in the back of your mind, you know it's a big game," Davis says. "You know the gravity of the situation: the in-state rival, the whole demeanor and attitude of the team, depending on the win or loss of that game."
On the 3rd and goal, Davis was away from the play and didn't see the fumble happen. But he felt it. "It was a powerful moment because you could hear the crowd erupt, and all the players stormed the field. It was just a whole bunch of excitement because at the time it was a big win for us," he says. "It was the defense that won the game. We went out there and stopped them. Thinking back, that was probably one of the top games of my career here."
Now as a graduate assistant, Davis has a chance to help the Tar Heels end a five-year losing streak to N.C. State. Is it just game nine on the schedule, or does Carolina get caught up in rivalry mode? "I think it's a little of both. You have to understand the gravity of the situation. There's a lot that rides on this game. You always want to beat your in-state rival because it gives you bragging rights throughout the state," he says. "Both teams are going to play above and beyond their capabilities on that day. Your'e going to get their best game, and that's a proven fact. When that game happens, you can pretty much throw the record books out the window. You're going to get everybody's best game."
"I try to teach the guys that these are going to be the best four years of your life, and there are things you are going to remember and you can look back upon, and the in-state rival games are the ones you look back upon the most," he says. Davis is not too far removed from his own playing days to provide some valuable perspective. Beat State? He's been there and done that.