"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
History seems to be a popular concept for this year's tilt. Chuck Amato would have you believe that last year's game is just that, history. Done. Forgotten. Put behind him.
But if coach Amato isn't careful, he may end up on the business end of the above maxim. Being too adamant about forgetting last season's game may mean losing sight of what was the real deciding factor in that contest. Not the final controversial call, but a relatively unknown fullback by the name of Madison Hedgecock who ran roughshod over the Pack's vaunted defense and straight into the long and often rehashed history of this storied series.
Prior to last year's game, Hedgecock rarely touched the ball on offense. Due to his size and strength (he holds two weight-room records for a Carolina fullback), he was employed as a blocking back for most of his snaps. Further, Hedgecock spent most of the 2002 and 2003 seasons as a defensive end trying to fill gaps on a depleted Tar Heel defensive front. So the fact that most State fans, hell, most Carolina fans, barely knew his name prior to the game is not a surprise.
But 10 carries and 69 crucial yards later, Hedgecock had cemented his legacy in the series. He posted four runs of over 10 yards, including a 25-yarder on the drive that netted Carolina's final points to rob the Pack the option of kicking a potential tying field goal at the end of the game. After the game, Pack fans left Kenan Stadium wondering how a 6-3, 260-pound fullback could've gone largely unnoticed on the playing field, and Heels fans left singing the praises, if only for one game, for John Bunting's brilliant scheme that featured him heavily.
Perhaps it speaks to why rivalry games are so often closely-played affairs that are never certain victories or defeats for either side. When so much emotion, anger and passion is funneled into one contest, it can become easy for players to get tunnel vision on certain players or positions. That desire to make a statement, to lay that devastating lick on the QB or star tailback can cause a lineman or linebacker to zero in on one player, hoping to stick their crown between their numbers.
That tunnel vision can lead to momentary breakdowns in coverage and open the window for an unknown quantity to do some damage.
So that begs the question: Will there be another Madison Hedgecock this season? Is there another secret weapon in the Carolina arsenal that Bunting can employ to keep the aggressive Pack defense on their heels (no pun intended)?
Here's a short list of Carolina players that you may or may not have heard of that the Pack should keep an eye on, lest history repeat itself:
1. Rikki Cook, Sr. FB. -- Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. This senior fullback spent last season watching his first-string compatriot rip the Pack a new one—no doubt he has visions of doing the same in his final crack against State. If defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap doesn't keep a close eye on him, expect it to be a painful evening for Dunlap, one, as Bunting unleashes Hedgecock Version 2.0 and two, as Chuck gives him the chewing out of a lifetime. Scariest Stat: Cook only has one carry for two yards, meaning there's virtually zero film of him carrying the ball.
2. Wallace Wright, Sr. WR. -- The Heels know just as well as everyone else that the Pack is weakest on defense in the secondary. Coupled with Carolina's woes running the ball, you can expect them to throw the ball around quite a bit. The names you may expect Heel quarterback Matt Baker to look to are Jawarski Pollack, Jesse Holley and Derrele Mitchell. The one you may not expect is Wallace Wright. Wright is a former walk-on who earned a scholarship prior to last season and currently ranks third on the team with five catches and a 48.5 yards-per-game average. He has a long catch of 40 yards, so look for Wright to get his looks down the field when the Heels go with three and four wideouts. Scariest Stat: Wright is 6-0, 191 pounds, meaning he's a smaller, speedster-type of receiver. He'll work to get behind State's secondary, which lately hasn't looked like too difficult of a task.
3. Jon Hamlett, Jr. TE. -- If ever there was a great equalizer against a team that plays a lot of aggressive defense, it's a pass-catching tight end. State fans know how important a weapon it can be after years of watching Willie Wright and T.J. Williams make their names catching drive-saving passes over the middle. Hamlett has that same potential; he played a huge role in Carolina's victory over Miami last season, catching five passes for 84 yards. Hmm...Miami is known for their tough defense. N.C. State is known for their tough defense. If the Pack is able to stop Carolina's run and play close on their wide receivers, Baker may look to Hamlett often as a safety valve over the middle. Scariest Stat: Hamlett caught the Heel's final touchdown in last year's game. He'll be looking to catch another one this year.