The pain from his sprained right ankle was nagging at him. Twice in North Carolina’s back-and-forth affair with N.C. State, a shaken-up Giovani Bernard had to be attended to on the field by athletic trainers and coaches after the play was blown dead.
With 30 seconds left on the Kenan Stadium clock Saturday, overtime looming, coach Larry Fedora called a time out and backup returner Roy Smith prepared to field a Wolfpack punt.
Heeding Fedora’s warning that the outcome, an eventual 43-35 UNC win, would come down to the very last possession, quarterback Bryn Renner couldn’t imagine the ball being in the hands of anyone but Bernard as the final seconds ticked off.
Coaches took Bernard off the return unit earlier in the game because of his ankle, but Renner called out to his tailback anyway.
“Gio, you’ve got to get in there,” he said. “We need you.”
That’s all Bernard needed to hear. Since he arrived in Chapel Hill, he has watched his team overcome adversity. Having allowed N.C. State to score 28 unanswered points Saturday, the Tar Heels were still battling it.
If the team could do it, so could he, Bernard thought. At the last minute, Bernard waved off his teammate.
“Let me try to see what I can do on this one,” Bernard told Smith.
With all eyes on him, the blue- and red-clad crowd on its feet, Bernard fielded the punt at the 26-yard line. Looking at the Wolfpack defenders before him, Bernard thought about signaling for a fair catch. In the moment, he decided against it — “high risk, high reward,” he thought.