The UNC offense was making a substitution. Quarterback Marquise Williams, who saw more reps than usual Thursday, came off the field in favor of starter Bryn Renner. The Tar Heels set up a new package, scrambled to get ready for an off-tackle run, but the referee didn’t remove his hand from the ball until there was one second left on the play clock, keeping UNC from getting off the snap.
By rule, an offense has to allow the opposing defense three seconds to make its own substitution, which officials used as the reasoning for preventing the snap.
“I thought there was a lot more than three seconds on the clock when we substituted,” coach Larry Fedora said. “I thought there was well over that.
“I didn’t think they were going to hold it up all the way to the end, but … that’s my fault, I should have called a timeout — it’s my responsibility.”
On the very next play, UNC was saddled with its second consecutive penalty — a false start call that pushed the Tar Heels to third and 11. On the play after that, Renner was sacked, forcing UNC to punt the ball back to the Hurricanes with plenty of time on the clock to come back.
The Hurricanes started on their own 10-yard-line with 4:11 left in the game, and they used 3:55 to storm 90 yards down the field and set up a Dallas Crawford 3-yard touchdown run.
That left UNC with just 16 seconds to respond. And though Renner was able to heave the ball into a crowded end zone, Quinshad Davis couldn’t come down with what would’ve been a miraculous catch.
After the game, Davis said he put the loss entirely on himself. Even Ebron, whose 199 yards set the UNC single-game record for a tight end, said he felt like he could’ve done more, like he somehow let his team down.
But there was also still the lingering frustration of the play that could’ve been, the play that never was.
“We should’ve had the win,” Ebron said. “We could’ve had the win. But we didn’t.”