Despite the glimpse of hope early on in the first quarter, the Tar Heels (1-7, 1-5 ACC) fell 38-28 to Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3 ACC) on Saturday afternoon, marking the team’s fifth consecutive loss this season.
“It is a challenge when you don’t have success, but I don’t worry about the guys in that room,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “There is no doubt in my mind the kind of grit they have, and they will continue to battle and give everything they have.”
With an unlucky season like this year, it’s easy for the team to give up. That’s where the Tar Heel leaders step in and help their teammates handle these hard times.
“(We’re) just making sure that the guys have the right mindset, that they’re not down and not giving up on us,” Carney said. “That’s the toughest thing as a leader — to make sure the team isn’t going in that direction.”
Even with another loss, two Tar Heels stood out, showing the fans a glimmer of hope on the defense. What could've been the team's biggest strength turned sour before the season even started. The defense has faced suspensions and season-ending injuries, forcing some hurt players to continue playing in order to fill the missing holes.
“Fedora always talks about, you never know what’s going to happen,” senior linebacker Cole Holcomb said. “Anything can happen, and for us, everything has happened. We have to learn how to overcome that stuff, and we’re going to figure it out.”
Even with each obstacle they’ve faced, Holcomb’s career-high game and Carney’s early touchdown sparked hope within the team on Saturday afternoon. They trusted their leaders.
“Both senior guys came from the bottom up, and they know what it takes to be good players and great leaders,” junior safety Myles Dorn said. “Those guys, you can’t really say nothing to them when they say something to you, because you know they put everything they have into their craft.”
Carney had his first start in 2015 after he redshirted in 2014. For Holcomb, he joined the team as a walk-on in 2014, and didn’t earn a scholarship until the 2016 season. Fast forward to 2018, both are two of the top UNC defensive players, and Saturday’s play proved it.
The senior duo had two of the team's highest tackle totals, some of which were solo. Holcomb had 22 tackles, 12 solo, while Carney had 10, including three solo. Carney also had 1.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery, which resulted in a touchdown after the 20-yard return.
“Those two guys kind of run the show,” Fedora said. “They handle things. It’s not me who’s having to milk things out of guys. They handle it. They handle the locker room. They keep guys’ heads high and keep battling.”
The duo’s leadership and performance sparked some hope and life into the defense, one that has been criticized at times this season. Overall, the Tar Heel defense prevented Saturday’s game from being a blowout. Holcomb helped prevent a greater loss with three forced fumbles on the day, the only three he's had this season. The UNC defense stopped the Yellow Jackets on fourth down twice, and caused its opponent to go 4-11 on third downs.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Fedora said. “Their offense runs a lot of yards, but our guys stopped them. They put us in a position to win a football game.”
Despite losing a fifth consecutive game, hope is still alive for the team thanks to a recovering defense. As the leaders step up, the somewhat criticized defense is giving more opportunities to win games.
“When things happen, you’ve got to keep going,” Holcomb said. “It is what it is, and you have to move on to the next one.”
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