Larry Fedora walked out of Doak Campbell Stadium a conquering hero on Oct. 1, 2016.
The trespassing North Carolina fans, who wanted to bask in the history they had just witnessed and thank the team that gave them that moment, formed a human tunnel starting near UNC’s locker room to the team bus door. Those same supporters dished out high fives and did their own Nick Weiler tomahawk-chop impressions when they couldn’t reach a player’s back to pat.
Weiler’s 54-yard boot as time expired had not only immortalized the senior kicker’s spot in North Carolina football lore: It gave the Tar Heel head coach his most iconic win of his mostly up-and-down career. It gave North Carolina one of its most unlikely road wins of all-time. And, for a moment, it seemed to have tattooed the UNC emblem into the college football conversation forever.
Compare the weekends of the 2016 and 2017 football seasons and see black and white.
The game in 2016 spawned hope for the rest of North Carolina’s season. The Tar Heels may have dropped their first game against Georgia, but they’d proven that they can win close games on the road and at home. ACC title hopes lingered — the same ones that hung around until an offsides call hindered them in 2015, and the same ones that seemed unfathomable just a year before that.