Believing Enough to Make Plays

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina’s three wins against FBS opponents this season have come with late-game heroics from all three phases.

On Sept. 6, San Diego State was 12 plays and 72 yards into what was setting up to be a game-winning drive. With 1st-and-goal from the three-yard line and less than 20 seconds left to play, Aztecs quarterback Quinn Kaehler dropped back and fired a pass to the left sideline of the end zone. Safety Tim Scott made a diving interception to secure UNC’s 31-27 win.

Fast forward six weeks to UNC’s next victory, this one coming against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets grabbed a 43-42 lead on DeAndre Smelter’s 75-yard touchdown run with 3:07 to play. UNC quarterback Marquise Williams orchestrated a 12-play, 75-yard drive that bled 2:58 off the clock and culminated with T.J. Logan’s two-yard touchdown run to notch a 48-43 win.

On Saturday, Virginia appeared on its way to building a two-possession lead midway through the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Nazair Jones hauled in his first lifetime interception. Backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw his first game-winning touchdown three minutes later and then UNC kept the Virginia offense off the field for the remainder of the game with a gutsy onsides kick to preserve the 28-27 victory.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora and junior offensive guard Landon Turner both pointed to one singular concept on Monday in explaining their team’s ability to make such monumental plays in crunch time.

Belief.

”Guys are really just believing that they’re going to make the play,” Turner said. “That may sound cliché, but they’re really buying into the fact that they can. Just look at Mack [Hollins]. He had two catches, but those two catches were huge.

“You don’t make those plays unless you have the confidence to say, ‘I’m about to make this play.’ I think guys have bought into that mindset more now than ever.”

Fedora attributed that level of confidence to the players trusting the coaches’ game plan and playing hard for 60 minutes.

“I’ve been in that situation before where everybody is waiting around for somebody to make a play,” Fedora said. “We’ve had guys step up and make plays. We’ve had guys in each of those games that have come up with big plays.”

Those game-winning plays have not only moved UNC (4-4, 2-2 ACC) within two games of bowl eligibility with four to play, but also have the Tar Heels in contention for the ACC’s Coastal Division crown.

UNC controls its destiny in the Coastal, joining only division-leading Duke (6-1, 2-1 ACC) in being able to make that claim heading into November.

“We have to get these wins,” Turner said. “Every game here on out is a championship game for us.”

Given that every team in the Coastal Division has its flaws, the teams that make the necessary plays down the stretch will position themselves for a trip to Charlotte and a likely matchup with No. 2 Florida State for the ACC Championship.

The Tar Heels have already established a track record for making those types of plays, but will undoubtedly need a few more in the final month of the regular season.


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