Conjuring the Past

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina's football program is reeling after losing three of its past four games, but a second upset victory in three years over Virginia Tech on a Thursday night in Blacksburg could reenergize the Tar Heels and set them on a course for their first nine-win season since 1997.

Rewind a few years back to Oct. 29, 2009.

North Carolina was coming off a colossal collapse against Florida State in the first-ever Thursday night game in Chapel Hill, blowing an 18-point third-quarter lead. With that loss, the Tar Heels fell to 4-3 overall (0-3 ACC) and were looking squarely at a 0-4 start to conference play with a trip to Blacksburg for a Thursday night matchup with No. 14 Virginia Tech.

Few pundits gave North Carolina – a 16.5.-point underdog – much of a chance at hostile Lane Stadium, but the Tar Heels scored first and Casey Barth converted two chip-shot field goals in the closing minutes to pull off the 20-17 upset.

Former UNC head coach Butch Davis was known for winning games that no one expected, such as Miami in '07 and Florida State in '10 to go along with the victory over the Hokies in '09.

Interim head coach Everett Withers has one last chance to follow his former boss's lead with another Thursday night shocker against Virginia Tech.

UNC is only a 10.5-point underdog this time around, but the atmosphere around the program is much more dire. The slow start heading into the '09 game was seen as a blip in the road for Davis's slowly developing program, but that era has fizzled out. There are only a few embers remaining and the Hokies can stomp those out with a win.

While there are definite similarities between that '09 game and Thursday night's matchup, Withers doesn't appear to be placing too much of an emphasis on drawing from the previous victory.

"I think it's beneficial, but you have to realize that there's a life of a team," Withers said during his weekly press conference on Monday. "Each team is different. We will take some of those experiences from some of the guys that have been there and done it up there, but a lot of these guys haven't… We have to build on what we can do with this football team going up there."

When asked about the life of his current team after losing three of four games, Withers responded, "The life is fine."

"I think this football team is resilient, ready to go back to work and ready to go try to get another win," he continued.

Quarterback Bryn Renner, who is recovering from a mild concussion suffered in the loss at N.C. State, traveled to Blacksburg for UNC's victory in '09 as a true freshman. The red-shirt sophomore told reporters that the younger players have been feeding off the energy of their older teammates and asking questions in preparation.

Two things working in UNC's favor – a much-needed bye week after 10 straight weeks and an opportunity to play in college football's primetime slot that has a steadfast way of providing motivation.

"I think just playing on a Thursday night, whether you have a bye or not, is important," Withers said. "I think kids like playing on Thursday night."

That helps, but at the end of the day, North Carolina is still striving to accomplish its annual goal of being a better team at the end of season than it was at the beginning.

"We just want to play the best that we can play," Renner said. "Virginia Tech is a great team; we know that. It's going to be a tough game. And we're really just looking forward, after the week off, to regroup and really just put all of the pieces together for a good game and play a solid game and play how we know we can play.

"We're still a very good football team. We're 6-4. We can really make a turnaround on Thursday night, so we're going to try to play the best that we can."

North Carolina can still secure a 9-4 record on the season – better than any record posted under Davis's tenure – but that can only happen with some magic in Blacksburg.


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