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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Grabs Kick, Victory In Final Minutes

No one in Kenan Stadium -- not even the players on the field -- knew what was going on at the bottom of the pile at midfield.

But when North Carolina cornerback Kevin Knight emerged from the fray with the football, UNC coach John Bunting and the rest of his Tar Heels could finally breathe a deep sigh of relief.

Knight covered David Greene's onside kick after it took a high bounce and tipped off the fingers of several members of UNC's hands team, securing the Tar Heels' possession and allowing the team to run out the clock in the final minute of its 30-24 victory against Virginia.

"I just saw the ball go up and hit one of our players," Knight said. "I was running to the other side to protect whoever had the ball, and I saw the ball come out, so I just jumped over it."

The play marked the second time in two weeks that UNC had to recover an onside kick to assure itself of a victory and capped a strong effort by the Tar Heels' special teams against the Cavaliers.

Unlike Sam Aiken's relatively simple onside kick recovery against East Carolina last week, Knight's play was shrouded in controversy.

When Knight jumped on the ball, several UVa. players, including cornerback Almondo Curry, started a pile on top of Knight.

After that, all bets were off.

"Their players were fighting, pushing, kicking, doing everything to get the ball," Knight said. "Other people were just jumping over the pile. It was crazy at the bottom of the pile."

Virginia's tactics almost worked. Shortly after the first couple of players started to come off the top of the pile, an official signalled that the Cavaliers had regained possession of the ball.

A number of UVa. players shot out of the pack at midfield, running toward their sideline with their arms up in triumph. Kenan Stadium grew quiet.

"I could not see what was going on," said Bunting, who added that one of his staff members in the sky boxes thought the Cavaliers had recovered the ball. "We were ready to go out there and play defense."

But Knight, Curry and a slew of other players were still in the pile, wrestling for the ball. Soon thereafter, the officials overruled the original call and awarded possession, and peace of mind, to North Carolina.

Curry, who at one point had the ball in his hands, and several other Cavaliers cried foul after the game.

"I thought it was ours the whole time," Curry said. "A Carolina guy dove for it, the ball popped out as he was diving, and I just grabbed it."

Although the Tar Heels were relieved to have secured the win, defensive end Julius Peppers said the game shouldn't have come down to that final play.

"We need to go ahead and win the game and not have to worry about all the drama, the late drama, at the end of the game," he said. "We need to put it away and take care of the ball."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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