WINSTON-SALEM, NC (Courtesy goheels.com) – Last Saturday, after Carolina’s 62-point shutout win over Elon, Larry Fedora was asked if his first game as Tar Heel head coach had established the identity of his team. “I don’t know if one game will establish the identity, because there wasn’t much adversity for us,” he replied. “Until we have to face some adversity, it’s hard to find out who you really are.”
This Saturday, Carolina indeed faced some adversity, as they suffered a one-point loss at Wake Forest. The Tar Heels allowed the Demon Deacons to drive 93 yards in nine plays to tie the game and kick the go-ahead extra point with 2:09 to play.
The adversity didn’t just come in those final two minutes; Carolina responded to a touchdown halftime deficit in the the third quarter. Carolina tied the game on a 73-yard drive on the second possession of the second half. But costly missed opportunities doomed the visitors from there. Tim Scott intercepted Tanner Price’s pass attempt at the Wake Forest 24 and returned it to the 8. A promising completion to Sean Tapley was negated by an Erik Highsmith hold, and suddenly 1st and goal from the 8 became 1st and goal from the 18. Carolina was never able to move the ball past where the drive started, and while Casey Barth was happy to tie brother Connor on the school’s all-time field goal list, he would have preferred to kick an extra point. “I definitely would have loved to have kicked extra points instead,” Barth said after the game. “It’s so tough, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Wake Forest was forced to punt on their next possession, but a personal foul on Tre Boston meant the Tar Heels’ next drive would start at their own 16 rather than the 31.Still, the offense drove inside the Wake Forest 15 before the drive stalled. Another Barth field goal, this one a record-setter, but the team needed six.
Ahead 27-21 with 10:44 to play, Carolina looked desperately for insurance points. But on the next two drives, the Tar Heels were unable to advance the ball beyond their own 34. This Tar Heel fast-paced offense is exciting to watch, but those two drives used up just 3:02 of clock. With 6:36 to play, they punted to Wake Forest.
On the ensuing drive, the Demon Deacons didn’t face a third down. A face mask penalty on Shaun Underwood granted new life and helped Wake Forest toward midfield. Tanner Price with Tommy Bohanon, Sherman Ragland III and Michael Campanaro before sneaking in for the score.
Even then, the Tar Heels weren’t finished shooting themselves in the foot. A 15-yard personal foul on Tommy Heffernan forced the offense to start at their own 13. After a Bryn Renner interception, Carolina got the ball back with 17 seconds to go, but, as in recent history, they were unable to get close to a field goal try. Renner launched a pass from the Tar Heel 40 but was unable to connect in the end zone as time expired. “I told [Coach Fedora] I would have tried a 60-yarder,” Barth said. He was like, ‘I know you could have hit it.'”
After the game, Fedora recognized that there were opportunities missed and certainly room for improvement. “It was typical game for them (Wake Forest), as far as playing hard, playing with minimal mistakes and capitalizing on the mistakes of the opposing team,” he said. “Too many mistakes tonight on our part. Too many penalties. You get down in the score zone and you have to kick field goals instead of touchdowns, and you turn the ball over on your own end and it’s hard to win.”
In the second quarter, Renner took a vicious hit on a rollout near the goal line. He struggled to get up and was replaced by Marquise Williams. A.J. Blue pushed the ball into the end zone, and Renner returned to the field on the next possession. That drive ended after three plays, when the quarterback was sacked and coughed up the ball at the Carolina 20, setting the Deacons up for the go-ahead score.
“That’s one that I’ve got to go back and look at myself,” Fedora said of that series, “because I made the call at the end to put him back out there. He felt like he was ready to go, the medical staff felt like he was ready to go, and to all indications he was. But the ball came out on that series. I’m going to question myself on that deal.”
For his part, Renner indicated that it was his rib cage that took the brunt of the blow, and that he had his wind knocked out of him. “I kind of fell on the ball sideways, so that was basically it,” he said. “I don’t think he had any effect. I just didn’t make enough plays to move the offense.”
But the problems weren’t only on the offensive side of the ball. Wake Forest was in the red zone four times, and converted touchdowns all four times. Campanaro was able to find holes in the secondary and move the ball downfield, and the Tar Heels gave Price plenty of time to find him. “Tonight, we made him look like an All-American,” Fedora said of Campanaro. “He might be.”
And so, the exhilaration of a 62-point win is followed by the disappointment of a heartbreaking one-point loss. Carolina is no longer undefeated in the Larry Fedora era, and the message hit home that there is still work to do. With a trip to Louisville next weekend, the road only gets tougher. “A lot of people were ready to crown us champs after beating Elon 62-0,” Fedora said. “We’ve got a long way to go. We’ll be a better football team because of it. This is the first form of adversity that we’ve had as a football team now in 2012. We get to find out a little bit about who the Tar Heels are going to be.”