Rivalry Recap: Top Three UNC Wins

We're starting today with the same ground rules as yesterday: these are the top three wins in the Carolina-State series, but only the games I've seen in person  (which means since 1986) are included. This story was a lot more fun to write than yesterday. Plus, it distracted me from the fact that I'm going with Woody Durham to speak at the Raleigh Sports Club today, which I expect to be a challenging experience. In August it seemed like a great idea to go to Raleigh during the week of the Carolina-State game. Today? I think I'd rather watch a highlight reel of Austin Rivers and Conner Vernon.

3. Sept. 25, 1993: Carolina 35, NC State 14. This is what five years of frustration looks like. State had won the series--sometimes in blowouts, sometimes in last-second fashion--every season since 1988. It was clear Mack Brown had turned around the UNC program, but he still hadn't beaten the Wolfpack. The Tar Heels even survived having starting quarterback Mike Thomas knocked out on the first series, as Jason Stanicek stepped in and overcome an injured shoulder to lead Carolina to the win. Very few people remember that Curtis Johnson rushed for 153 yards on 18 carries. Many more recall that there was a near-brawl, including a helmet-swinging altercation, at the end of the first half.

Then, after the game, in perhaps the most memorable on-field handshake of all time, UNC assistant Donnie Thompson body-slammed State assistant Ted Cain. Naturally, this is bad sportsmanship and no one condones it. But to a 16-year-old going crazy in the stands at Carter-Finley Stadium, this was pretty close to the coolest thing ever.

2. Oct. 9, 2004: Carolina 30, NC State 24. "The T.A. game." That's all you need to say and everyone instantly knows what you're talking about. Was he in? Was he not in? The officials said he didn't make it, setting up one of the wildest finishes in the history of venerable Kenan Stadium. Even today, all you have to do to infuriate many State fans is say, "T.A. was down," and you'll get a 10-minute soliloquy on ACC unfairness.

You have to also remember that this was in the heart of the Amato/Bunting era, when the two head coaches seemed like a couple of pro wrestlers trying to find a way to make the off-the-field entertainment as much fun as the game itself. First, Amato stole recruit A.J. Davis from the Tar Heels and then opined, "That's life in the fast lane." This was accompanied by Amato riding into his signing day press conference on a motorcycle. Sadly, I couldn't find any pictures of it. Just rest assured that fashion wasn't always Amato's strong suit. Neither was shoe selection, although one of the lesser-known highlights of this era was that when State auctioned a pair of Amato's infamous red shoes on its official website, a very well-known UNC football personality bought them, just to have a memento of the Wolfpack's sometimes bumbling but always entertaining coach. Carolina went 4-2 against State during the Bunting regime.

1. Nov. 28, 1998: Carolina 37, NC State 34 (OT). This game was part of a two-year experiment of playing the Carolina-State game in Charlotte. This year was a classic. The next year was classic for how bad both teams were, and Carolina somehow won it 10-6 with a tailback (Domonique Williams) playing quarterback and an offense that basically had two plays--run the ball or heave it as far downfield as possible.

But in 1998, a then-record crowd of 68,797 jammed into Ericsson Stadium and created a bowl-type atmosphere. On the field, they were treated to a matchup between Dre' Bly and Torry Holt, two of the best players in the league's history. Bly won the first half matchup, as Carolina built a 24-3 halftime lead, Holt grabbed just two catches, and Bly collected his 20th interception. But everything changed in the second half, as Holt took a punt return for a touchdown and State stormed back from a 31-10 deficit at the end of the third quarter. Holt finished with nine catches for 180 yards.

State had the momentum going into overtime, but they had to settle for a field goal on their first possession of overtime. Carolina responded by Oscar Davenport arcing a perfect pass into the arms of Na Brown for a walk-off win. It was the program's sixth straight win over State and 19th straight victory over an in-state ACC opponent (all together now: "Those were the days."). I couldn't find any video of the final play, even in the ACC Vault, so if anyone can dig it up, let me know.

What's your favorite Tar Heel win over the Wolfpack?