ATLANTA -- Entering Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech, Larry Fedora was still looking for that signature victory at North Carolina.
His teams had claimed some quality wins during his first three years. In 2012, his Tar Heels snapped a five-game losing streak to N.C. State in dramatic fashion. In 2013, UNC capped off a late-season turnaround with a 39-17 rout of Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. Last season, the Tar Heels stunned Duke in primetime on a Thursday night to become bowl eligible.
Those were all big wins, but they came at a time when the Tar Heels were out of contention to play for the ACC Championship.
That’s why North Carolina’s 38-31 victory over Georgia Tech is arguably the biggest during the Fedora era.
“I think we’ve been going in the right direction so I don’t know that we’re turning,” Fedora told reporters during his postgame press conference. “But I think maybe that gets us over the hump.”
That hump was winning in Atlanta, something the Tar Heels hadn’t done since 1997. That hump was winning its first game in conference play, something the Tar Heels have done just twice since 2001. That hump was winning the game after trailing by 21 points, something that has never happened in the 121 seasons that UNC has played football.
“It says a lot about this football team,” Fedora said. “We talk a lot with you guys about what happened last year, and what we learned from that, and how we addressed it, and all of those things, and I think these are the things that you’re seeing from all of that. The lessons that they learned, the ownership they took in those issues, and how they were going correct them.”
The season is far from over for the Tar Heels, and there are more tests to come.
“I think there’s a lot of confidence in that locker room; they feel pretty good about themselves,” Fedora said. “Now they know we’ve still got a long way to go, but, I’ll tell you what they’ll do, they’ll come to work next week with the same attitude that they have every week.”
“Just a tremendous team win today. It took everything we had, all of their will and all of their effort, but as a team they got it done and I’m really proud of the way they played.”
What was the team's emotion after falling behind 21-0?
“One is our team never panicked when we were down 21 points. I thought the offensive staff did a great job of just staying with the game plan, we continued running the ball effectively and that was the reason they were able to get those two touchdowns right before half, which were critical. The streak, these guys, there was no streak with these guys. They’d never lost in Atlanta. So the ’15 team has only been here one time, so that’s how we looked at it, and they got the job done. Really proud of everything they did today.”
What did you think of how Marquise battled today?
“He was a beast today. What did he have, 148 yards, two touchdowns? Caught a touchdown. I mean, he took a lot of criticism last week, everybody questioned him out there on the outside, and he did what he can do. He came out, played, was determined to play well, and he did a great job.”
What transpired for the defense to be able to hold Georgia Tech to 10 points after a 21-0 start?
“One thing, just listening to them at halftime, there was no panic. Gene (Chizik), after the coaches talk, talked to the players and said ‘Hey, we’re not changing anything. You guys get off of blocks, do the job you’re supposed to do,’ and that’s what they did. It was more of just the only way you’re going to defeat blocks like that is to be more physical and have a mentality that you’re not going to be blocked. Get off the blocks, run to the football, and make plays, and that’s what they did.”
Was there something you saw with Georgia Tech’s defense that allowed you to call the Quinshad Davis to Marquise Williams touchdown pass?
“I think that play right now for us is 100 percent. We’ve used it multiple times throughout the past three years, so, you know, we hit them with the fumbles, which was the turning point in the game, and while you’ve got (them) on their heels, we came back at them with that big play and I think Quinshad has thrown it a couple of times before this, hadn’t he? He’s 4-4 for four touchdowns, so, you know, we probably ought to call it more often.”
What does it say about Marquise Williams that you relied on him when driving up 31-28?
“He’s a fifth-year senior, and it means a lot to him, and it means a lot to all of those seniors. They know they’re running out of time, and they came to Carolina to win a championship. So Quise, he willed his way through that one. He took some licks, and in fact, there were a couple of times where I was gonna call a pass or I’d suggested a pass in one of those situations and he said ‘Nah, we’ll be alright,’ and he ran the ball, and he ran it well.”
What does it say about this team to win in such a resilient fashion?
“It says a lot about this football team. And we talk a lot with you guys about what happened last year, and what we learned from that, and how we addressed it, and all of those things, and I think these are the things that you’re seeing from all of that. The lessons that they learned, the ownership they took in those issues, and how they were gonna correct them. And it’s them. It’s not me, it’s not the staff, it’s not the coaching, I assure you, it’s our players. They’re the guys that are getting it done. It will always be the players. They’re the ones that make it go.”
What did you think of Cayson Collins’ performance?
“Cayson Collins in the last two weeks has made those plays for us, so he’s finally understanding how and what kind of impact he can make based on how he practices. He had a really good week of practice. So when you do those things, good things usually happen. Sometimes the light doesn’t come on for some guys as quick as others, but I think Cayson will see that because of his week of practice, he was able to make really big plays out there. And hopefully he’ll just keep doing that.”