North Carolina thought it had secured a last-second win.
The then-No. 22 Tar Heels stormed the field in celebration after Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen's spike attempt came as the clock expired.
But just as the UNC coaching staff readied to congratulate the Fighting Irish the referee intervened and said the previous play was under review.
For several minutes the Tar Heels waited to see whether ND sophomore receiver Michael Floyd had fumbled the ball inside the North Carolina 10-yard line.
The officials ruled the play a turnover — Notre Dame's fifth of the game — and UNC took over" taking a knee to secure a 29-24 come-from-behind win Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
""It was the worst"" junior receiver Hakeem Nicks said of the last-second delay. Everybody was just basically biting fingernails hoping that it went our way.""
The Floyd fumble was just one moment in a series of big plays and momentum shifts throughout the afternoon.
From the get-go" the Fighting Irish came out firing. On its first series" Notre Dame (4-2) opened with five-receiver sets and picked apart the UNC secondary en route to a quick touchdown.
The Irish's offensive efficiency didn't end with that drive. Notre Dame scored on three of its four first-half drives as Clausen dictated the game's pace with a combination of deft strikes to receivers and designed draws.
""We got it put to us early" especially in the first quarter" coach Butch Davis said. It's a credit to their coaching staff to try and change the tempo and change the pace of the ball game — they had us reeling.""
To its credit" North Carolina (5-1) remained composed throughout the onslaught. Quarterback Cameron Sexton methodically drove the Tar Heels for three first-half field goals to keep UNC within striking distance.
Sexton repeatedly connected with Nicks who became the prominent target in the passing game once Brandon Tate exited with a sprained right knee in the first half.
Nicks caught seven passes for 116 yards in the first half with many of those receptions resulting in first downs.
But at the rate Notre Dame was going the field goals Sexton and Nicks created wouldn't be enough for North Carolina to rally.
Trailing 17-9 at the half Davis told his team in the locker room that they needed a big play — something to swing the momentum back to the UNC sideline.
And on a day dominated by offense the game swung on a play by the defense.
On the first snap of the second half" linebacker Quan Sturdivant picked off a Clausen pass and rumbled 32 yards for a touchdown.
""We talked about it in the locker room. We need something good to happen"" Davis said. It just electrified the whole football team. It kinda got our mojo going again.""
With that" the North Carolina defense gained an edge on Notre Dame and the Tar Heel offense turned those field goal opportunities into touchdowns.
Ryan Houston scored from one yard out with 5:14 left in the third and Sexton leapt across the goal line on the first play of the fourth quarter. That touchdown gave the Tar Heels a 29-24 advantage — their first and only lead of the game.
The offense was not the only unit that raised its play after halftime. The Fighting Irish still drove the ball at will — ND finished the game with 472 total yards — but when the game was on the line the Tar Heels' defense didn't break.
Notre Dame's last four drives ended in turnovers the final three coming in UNC territory.
With both offenses playing at a high level" North Carolina's plus-five advantage in takeaways was the key in the comeback — the Tar Heels' second rally since their Sept. 20 meltdown against Virginia Tech.
""We enjoy coming back and winning" and we know how to do it Sexton said.
If that's the way it's gonna be" I think we're good at it.""
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