And perhaps the best description describing UNC's asterisk-needed, 30-24 win over NC State on Saturday evening at Kenan Stadium? Dissatisfying. In talking with senior cornerback Dovonte Edwards, a Chapel Hill native, in the post-game locker room, that's the word he used. "This one's forever," he said, meaning that he would never get the chance to exact revenge on the Tar Heels. He was left grasping for words, seemingly at a loss to comprehend how his final matchup with UNC could end with no one quite sure of exactly what had transpired.
A battered and hurting T.A. McLendon said, without hesitation, "I was in. They called a touchdown, didn't they?" On some level, McLendon has to wonder if he has wronged referee Jim Knight in a previous life. After all, Knight is the same official that ruled McLendon down on the goal line at "The Horseshoe" in the third overtime against Ohio State in Columbus last year. The biggest difference is that multiple camera angles backed up that ruling, and NC State fans could tip their caps and admit the great game-saving play by Buckeyes safety Will Allen. This year? No replay. Only one official signaling a touchdown and another shaking his head no, then Knight clumsily and arbitrarily asking for first 11, then 10 seconds to be taken off the clock.
In the absence of a video explanation, the media thought, "Let's go to the head official himself to clarify this, shall we?" But wait – the officials aren't available, they were told. But at least Knight issued a statement through the UNC media relations office, a description that would surely clear up this mess, right?
"It was not an overrule," said Knight. "[Line judge Rick Page] saw the runner's knee down before the ball crossed the goal-line plan. He relayed that information to me, and that was how the play was ruled."
The most common refrain heard thus far for the controversial ending is, "Well, it shouldn't have come down to that last play." But it did -- like it has in hundreds of rivalries games throughout the country for years. And 100 players left their hearts on the field in what was a tremendously entertaining contest, especially in the second half. That an officiating crew could botch the ending in such a fashion that no one knows exactly what occurred is a disservice to those players and the coaches who spend so many hours preparing them.
In yesterday's teleconference, Amato said he had more comments after reviewing the film, but he wasn't allowed to share them, presumably because of rules disallowing coaches and players from criticizing officials. To their credit, Amato and his players made what had to be a supreme effort not to criticize the call, despite many opportunities. They never took the bait, taking the very, very high road in what was an emotionally charged environment.
"It was a little confusing," said quarterback Jay Davis. "The call was the call. We had another shot to get in there and didn't do it."
"It wouldn't have been confusing if we had just walked it in," said defensive end Mario Williams. "The calls the refs made … that's what they made. We can't do anything about that. We should have just made it obvious. It should have been plain as day and we wouldn't have had confusion."
"All I know is six points were taken off the board," said a tight-lipped Amato afterward. "If we had walked in, we wouldn't have this, so let's move on.
"But great game, and I'm sure you guys can now write your stories. You'll have a lot of fun with this."
Indeed, the media has had a field day, with as many opinions on what actually happened as there were viewpoints. Nearly two days later, everyone is still trying to sort out the mess, and Amato pointed out that filing a formal protest to the ACC would do no good.
"What it's going to do?" he asked. "It may help someone else win a game, but it doesn't help us."
The inference there is that penalizing or suspending these officials might allow a better prepared, more decisive crew to avoid the same late-game chaos in another tight contest somewhere else this season. But Amato also noted that "Finish" has been NC State's motto since he arrived in Raleigh. Heck, it's emblazoned on the tower he often perches in to overlook the Wolfpack practice fields. The Pack overcame slow starts against Virginia Tech and Wake Forest to prevail with strong finishes, but it caught up to them against the Tar Heels. Much credit must be given to UNC for making the plays it had to to come away with a monumental victory for its program.
But much criticism must also be levied at an officiating crew that compounded one error with another, and took the game out of the players' hands at the most crucial of moments.