For Mack Hollins on Saturday, the atmosphere inside Kenan Stadium was different.
"It was the best atmosphere I’ve been in since I’ve been here," he said. "Especially at a 12 o’clock game. ... Just the feeling of everybody being on your side and cheering after every play. We’re pumping them up and they’re screaming."
Maybe that's why the North Carolina football team beat Duke 66-31 to hold onto the Victory Bell. Maybe that's why the Tar Heels scored more points than they ever had in an ACC game. Maybe that's why Hollins had the best game of his UNC career.
Maybe all of that is exactly backwards, and the atmosphere was a result rather than a cause.
Regardless of the reason, Hollins and the Tar Heels had their way with a vaunted Duke defense — which entered the game as the No. 9 defense in the country.
"Today was the day where everybody was clicking," said Hollins, who set a career-high with 165 receiving yards on just five receptions. "Me, Bug (Howard), Quinshad (Davis) and (Ryan) Switzer all got in the end zone, and that's huge when four receivers can get it, you see what happens with the points and the amount of yards we got."
When the clock finally hit zero, and the Carolina Blue stadium began to sing the alma mater, Larry Fedora's offense was sitting pretty with 704 total yards — the third-most in UNC history.
For Hollins, that stemmed from the confidence the entire receiving core has — along with the blocking of the offensive line and quarterback Marquise Williams' "phenomenal" play.
"We know we can beat everybody," Hollins said. "If you don’t have that confidence as a receiver, you shouldn’t be on the field.
"If you think somebody can cover you — whether Deion Sanders came in over here, or Richard Sherman walked through the door — in your mind if you don’t think you can beat them then you’re going to get beat the whole night."
Far from being beat, the UNC receivers found themselves open, early and often Saturday afternoon. Switzer and Hollins both eclipsed 100 receiving yards on the day, while 10 other receivers helped give the Tar Heels 537 receiving yards in what wound up being the highest scoring UNC-Duke game ever played.
On Hollins' big play of the game, a 74-yard touchdown catch down the left sideline, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver once again showed the breakaway speed that has made him such a dangerous deep threat.
"There’s sometimes where I can just run by a person from the start, from the line of scrimmage," Hollins said. "And there’s sometimes where — like on my touchdown — where I have to work them a little bit, make a move and then go. But once I’m past you, or if he’s even with me, our saying is, 'If you’re even, you’re leavin.'"
And Hollins left. With the sound 60,000 fans screaming for him as he coasted into the end zone.
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