Embracing the Rivalry

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Saturday's exhilarating 43-35 victory made one thing abundantly clear - Larry Fedora has returned the passion to the heated rivalry with N.C. State.

There have been plenty of signs that Fedora would embrace this rivalry at a more engaged level than his predecessor in Chapel Hill. The booster event banter, the Twitter countdown and the N.C. State paraphernalia decoration party in the locker room all pointed toward that direction, regardless of Fedora's comments about approaching each game the same.

The Tar Heels took the Kenan Stadium field for warmups in navy uniforms with white helmets, drawing a hefty dose of criticism from fans in attendance, on message boards and on social media sites.

Fedora, however, tricked everyone, his players included. When the players returned to the locker room for the final time before kickoff, new chrome helmets with the Tar Heel footprint logo on the side waited for them.

As expected, the new look pumped up the entire roster, but the significance of this game had long since taken hold.

"This wasn't just a regular win," defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said. "This wasn't us going out there and playing against any other school. This was a team we wanted to beat and have been harping on beating all year."

Williams and senior left guard Jonathan Cooper delivered impassioned speeches to their teammates on Friday night, talking of pride, love and brotherhood.

So it was no surprise that plenty of Tar Heels shed tears following the game after all this team has been through over the past two-and-a-half years. Even Fedora admitted to wiping away tears.

The locker room scene forced the first-year UNC head coach to reflect back to March when he walked into that very same room and told the players that they couldn't play in a bowl game this season and therefore they were free to transfer wherever they wanted.

According to Fedora, senior linebacker Kevin Reddick said: "We're not going anywhere."

‘That's what flashed through my mind," Fedora told reporters after the game. "So for those seniors, that was pretty special."

Running back Gio Bernard indicated that while the players told the media all week long that this rivalry matchup doesn't mean any more to them than the next game, deep down they knew it meant more. Once the new coaching staff entered the mix, this game was highlighted.

"This was our Super Bowl," Bernard.

It also sets a foundation for Fedora and his assistants to use as a springboard, both with recruits and boosters.

"It's tremendously big for the coaching staff," Reddick said. "I think, as a coaching staff, beating your in-state rivals and that type of stuff is always big for the school. It's just something else on their resume."

The streak is over. And judging by Fedora's initial foray into the rivalry, there's a good chance many great rivalry clashes will follow.

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