"It was something people judged us on for the past two years," junior safety Myles Wolfolk said before the game.
Wolfolk was the story of the last game, intercepting two balls from the Gamecocks late in the fourth quarter to kill any hope of a comeback. This time, it was defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge and linebacker Tomon Fox.
It was Strowbridge who blocked what would have been a game-tying extra point attempt in the third quarter. And it was Fox who recorded three sacks in the game — more than the 2.5 he had all last season — including a crucial one at the start of the fourth quarter to end a Miami drive.
"It was exciting man, everyone wanted to get (a sack) after that," Fox said. "From the d-line, it was just a race to the quarterback after that."
There were times in the game where it looked like the defense might have been running out of steam. In the second quarter, UNC allowed a combined 10 points on back-to-back drives, and in the third, the Hurricanes went 75 yards in seven plays, ending with a touchdown by Cam'Ron Harris.
"Usually you have to win the last five minutes before the half to win the game, but we didn't," head coach Mack Brown said. "They won — I think they scored twice in seven minutes. Then you have to come out and win the first five minutes of the second half, and they drove right down the field again."
But somehow, some way, the defense found enough to hold its ground when it mattered most. Three different times, Miami worked its way past the UNC 25-yard line. And three times, North Carolina managed to stop the Hurricanes from reaching the end zone, turning what could have been 21 points into just six – two made field goals and a miss.
In a game where Miami out-gained UNC by 99 yards, the Tar Heels held strong.
"I have comfort knowing that to my left and to my right, I have some goons next to me that can go out there and make a play," Crawford said.
Crawford made the first sack of the fourth quarter, taking away four yards from the Hurricanes who had momentum after completing a 29-yard pass to end the third quarter. Fox made the second to force the punt.
Chants of "We want Clemson!" echoed throughout Kenan Stadium after the win, and Brown said he had to shut down talk from his locker room about being a top-25 team in the nation.
His players respectfully disagree.
"I feel like we're a top-25 team without a doubt," said linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel, who led the team in tackles on Saturday with 14. "Especially when we're playing at our best. And I feel like these past two games we ain't even played at our best, and we still found a way to pull out the win."
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