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The Daily Tar Heel

The end-of-season clash for all the gridiron bragging rights in North Carolina has finally arrived.

No other football game between teams in the Tar Heel state matters more than today's North Carolina-N.C. State grudge match. It's the one sport where UNC's other primary rival Duke hasn't made an impact in a long time.

While the game might not mean much on the national level it's marked off on the schedule for the rabid fans at both schools. No matter what either team's record is countless numbers of partisan supporters are quick to point out just how much spite they have for their rival.

Even someone with no knowledge of the rivalry can see that the players feel the same way — the amount of hard-hitting pushing" shoving and trash-talking always seems to pick up for this physical battle.

 ""If you're not ready for this one" you don't deserve to be in the state rivalry UNC cornerback Kendric Burney said. When the schedule comes out" you get this game in your head. You know when you play N.C. State.

""Everyone comes with their A-game"" nobody wants to be shown up.""

Though N.C. State sits at two games below .500"" the Wolfpack would like nothing more than to knock UNC out of the conference title race and push them to a lower-tiered bowl game.

""It's like the Super Bowl for them"" Tar Heel safety Deunta Williams said. I know they're going to be coming hard.""

But the game also has implications beyond offseason bragging rights and conference standings — an impressive performance can give the victorious school a leg up in recruiting" especially among waffling in-state players.

And with big-name coaches and noted recruiters Butch Davis and Tom O'Brien now leading the two N.C. powers this advantage could be powerful ammunition as they try to persuade the top preps to enroll at their schools.

The matchup has become a traditional showcase of sorts for what are clearly the top two recruiting powers in North Carolina.

Wake Forest Duke and East Carolina have made inroads in recent seasons but UNC and N.C. State still lock down the state's best players.

Williams was one player who considered both schools before choosing North Carolina.

He said that while watching the game didn't make or break his decision" seeing UNC squeak out an exciting win against N.C. State before he committed in 2004 definitely made him raise an eyebrow.

""I saw something in North Carolina I didn't see before"" Williams said.

The reputation they had for being soft — I had thought that before. When I came to the game they were physical. They were really pounding State around.""

The ending to the game Williams watched that year was a doozy. UNC's Khalif Mitchell recovered Wolfpack running back T.A. McLendon's fumble just short of the goal line on the game's final play" preserving the 30-24 UNC upset.

The final play underscored what had happened in the game as a plucky underdog UNC squad managed to out-physical its rival a team loaded with a number of NFL draft picks.

Williams said he still remembers most of the details from it and how his perception of UNC football changed illustrating just how much of an effect this matchup can have on an undecided player.

In 2004 N.C. State was in the position in which North Carolina now finds itself. With a win UNC will have twice as many victories this year as its rival. But a loss could give the Wolfpack some momentum heading into the offseason.

UNC also has two top recruits linebacker Hawatha Bell and safety Donavan Tate visiting this weekend" so the Tar Heels would like a strong showing.

""This weekend will definitely be a big plus for us if we can pull this out" as far as in-state recruits go" Burney said. Hopefully we can just go out there and do our responsibilities and get the job done.""

Defensive tackle Cam Thomas" who will be battling in the trenches reinforced the importance of the rivalry contest.

The Wolfpack has beaten Duke Wake Forest and East Carolina this season" so a win would make them the de facto state champions.

""They beat us last year" so they got the bragging rights" Thomas said. Now it's time to make a change.""

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