Ronald Curry walked out to his postgame press conference following Saturday's game against Maryland with a smile on his face.
The North Carolina quarterback had just completed one of the worst statistical games of his career, finishing 7-of-16 for 42 yards with an interception.
What did he have to smile about?
Plenty. The Tar Heels kept their bowl hopes alive by defeating the Terrapins 13-10 before 40,000 fans at Kenan Stadium. And Curry proved that, struggles aside, he's still the man on the UNC offense, scoring the game-winning touchdown on a
25-yard scamper with 7:24 left in the game.
"If the ballgame's on the line, we don't have anybody on the football team I would rather have the ball in his hands than Ronald Curry," UNC coach Carl Torbush said.
The Tar Heels (5-5, 2-5 in the ACC) used an impressive defensive effort, high-quality special teams play and a
158-yard performance from redshirt freshman tailback Willie Parker to seal the win on an otherwise forgettable afternoon.
The Terps struggled to get anything going offensively mainly because of the job the UNC defense did of keeping
All-American and one-time Heisman Trophy candidate running back LaMont Jordan from taking over the game.
Jordan, who steamrolled UNC last year for 147 yards and two touchdowns, finished with 101 yards on 27 carries. He earned negative yardage on nine rushes, and 14 of his carries were for 2 yards or less.
"We wanted to go out there and attack him early in the game and make sure he didn't gain any confidence early," said UNC senior linebacker Brandon Spoon, who recorded 15 tackles, three of them for losses. "If we could pound him and beat him up a little bit early in the game, then I think we knew we could control the game a little bit and control the tempo."
The Tar Heels also benefited from strong red-zone defense.
With the game scoreless in the second quarter, the Terps had a first-and-10 on the UNC 11 after quarterback Shaun Hill marched them down the field beginning at their own 8. After Spoon tackled Jordan on consecutive plays and Hill hit Guilian Gary on a 9-yard slant, the Terps faced fourth-and-one at the 2.
Hill was then met at the line by UNC linebacker Quincy Monk on a sneak, and the drive was stalled.
"That was real big," Spoon said. "That was a big boost to our confidence, and I think that may have helped the offense a little bit knowing that they had some room for error."
UNC stood strong in the red zone again late in the third quarter with Maryland facing a first-and-goal from the 5. A Hill keeper, a pitch to Jordan and a Jordan pass attempt to fullback James Lynch went nowhere, and the Terps had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Brian Kopka.
"Defensively, I felt like overall we played well," Torbush said. "We made some really, really key plays, especially in the red zone inside the 5, plays that we had to make or we don't win the ballgame. So I can't say enough about those guys."
There wasn't much positive, however, to say about the passing game.
Curry, who rushed 11 times for 53 yards, overthrew receivers, underthrew receivers and appeared uncomfortable.
"I feel like I lost my rhythm a little bit the last couple weeks, and hopefully I can pick it up," Curry said. "I'm throwing the ball well at practice and then come Saturday... Maybe it's the 12 o'clock game. I don't know. Hopefully, I can pick it up next week."
Regardless of how he throws, Curry still knows how to run. With UNC trailing 10-6 and facing third-and-seven at the Maryland 25-yard line, Curry took the ball out of the shotgun and ran a draw.
He eluded the grasp of safety Tony Jackson before plowing over the Terps' Andrew Smith Jr. at the goal line for the score. That run capped a 10-play,
66-yard drive for UNC that ate up 4:31 on the clock, the only decent scoring drive for the Tar Heels on the day.
"I acted like I was going to take the outside and made an inside cut, and he fell for it," Curry said. "And it was just one man to beat. And if I can't beat that one man, then we shouldn't be running that play."
The game got off to a slow start as both teams failed to establish any sort of consistency on their respective offenses.
UNC finally got on the scoreboard after Jeff Reed converted a 42-yard field goal to give UNC a 3-0 advantage with 57 seconds left in the first half. UNC cornerback Michael Waddell set up that field goal by deflecting a Maryland punt, giving UNC the ball at the Maryland 42.
Reed added a 32-yard field goal to increase the lead to 6-0 with 10:07 remaining in the third quarter.
Special-teams play again set up that kick. Bosley Allen fielded a punt at the UNC 49 and returned it 33 yards to the Terrapin 18.
"I thought our special teams improved a great deal today," Torbush said. "We finally played well."
Hill later added a 7-yard touchdown pass to Gary with 14:14 left in the contest to give Maryland (5-5, 3-3) a 10-6 advantage, its only lead of the game.
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