“I actually forgot to sing the fight song first, because I was so excited about the win,” Brown said of the postgame celebration. “I always get nervous about the dance.”
In typical fashion for this year’s Tar Heels, it wasn’t a forgone conclusion right out of the gate. It didn’t matter how much they outmatched the injury-depleted Wolfpack on paper.
At the end of the first half, UNC trailed N.C. State by four points. First-year quarterback Sam Howell had been sacked three times, intercepted once and held to no touchdowns. The Wolfpack came out with an energy the Tar Heels didn’t seem capable of matching.
The Tar Heels didn’t hang their heads, though. They’ve been a second-half team all year, and it was much of the same on Saturday.
“I think we just had a plan that we were gonna fight to the finish and see if they were gonna fight with us,” senior defensive back Myles Dorn said.
And, boy, did they ever fight.
UNC scored four touchdowns in the third quarter alone, three of which came after N.C. State turnovers. After first-year defensive back Don Chapman snatched a ball away from the fingertips of receiver Thayer Thomas, the Tar Heel offense came alive.
Two plays later, sophomore running back Javonte Williams ran up the middle and dove into the end zone for a touchdown with 10:07 left in the third quarter.
On the next UNC possession, Williams scored again, this time hauling in an 11-yard pass from Howell. And then, after sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel forced and recovered a fumble, Williams went for the hat-trick: a six-yard touchdown with five minutes left in the same quarter.
“I felt like we took their pride, kinda,” Williams said. “They started getting down, and we just capitalized on it.”
Even with the game well out of hand, the Tar Heel offense kept up the scoring pace with 35 points in the second half. To Gemmel, that made the victory that much sweeter.
“A couple years ago, I wasn’t here yet, but I remember they ran up the score on us,” he said. “They were throwing deep shots and they were already up on us.”
But as much as it was a lot of the same for the Tar Heels on Saturday night — the second-half heroics and dancing, in particular — this win was different.
UNC's senior class had knocked off its rival for the first time, and in the process punched its ticket to a bowl game for the first time in three years.
This one meant more. And they knew it.
“It’s significant for the younger guys,” Dorn said, “just to know that this is what’s supposed to happen moving forward.”
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