The Tar Heels' defense shut down the vaunted Seminoles and the Carolina offense played its first quality game of the year as UNC shocked the college football world by destroying the No. 6 Seminoles 41-9 before a frenzied crowd of 53,000 Among the Pines.
"It feels so good," said senior wide receiver Kory Bailey, who had three catches for 63 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown reception. "We have worked very hard and stayed positive. We knew we could win because coach kept us positive and we knew it would eventually click."
What clicked today hadn't in UNC's first three games, all defeats on the road, a couple to a pair of top-five teams.
Carolina had turned the ball over 11 times entering game number four and had put together just one lengthy scoring drive while the games were still in doubt.
However, on this warm afternoon just 11 days removed from the worst U.S. tragedy in the nation's history, the Tar Heels rose to the occasion and turned the tables on the Seminoles, who had outscored UNC 105-24 in the last two meetings.
"Coach said we had an opportunity," said freshman quarterback Darian Durant. "We knew after watching film of them that this wasn't the same Florida State team of old. We know they are always gonna have talent, but this wasn't the same Florida State team of old."
And get them they did.
After trailing at halftime 9-7 and showing similar signs of falling apart on offense as they had in their two previous games, the Tar Heels chewed up 224 total yards in the second half while putting an amazing 34 points on the board and pulled away much like they had seen Bobby Bowden's boys do so many times before.
UNC coach John Bunting went with Durant to open the third quarter and it appeared to backfire when his second pass of the half was picked off by FSU's Stanford Samuels. However, the sleek Seminole cornerback fumbled after just a five-yard return and Carolina's Andre Williams fell on it, regaining possession for the Heels and giving them a first down.
Four plays later, Durant found a wide open Chesley Borders for a 52-yard scoring strike and the Heels had not only regained the lead (14-9), but they regained confidence, momentum and got their laid back fans into the game.
"They (crowd) helped us a lot," said senior defensive tackle Ryan Sims. "I loved it. I love it when they're ecstatic like that."
On the Borders score, Durant ran a beautiful play-action fake and when FSU's Malcolm Tatum fell down, it was just a matter of hitting Borders.
"That was big for us because we hadn't moved the ball in the second quarter," Durant said of the touchdown. "I saw him get open and just gave it out there to him."
While the offense was beginning to churn its wheels, the stubborn Carolina defense began to clamp down on an FSU bunch that gobbled up 127 yards in the second quarter alone.
FSU signal caller Chris Rix, a freshman who had helped give the 'Noles life in the first half with his scrambling, was sacked for a seven-yard loss by All-American candidate Julius Peppers and two other members of Carolina's Fearsome Foursome front line, Sims and Will Chapman.
A two-yard loss on a pass play was followed by a one-yard run by North Carolina native Nick Maddux and the 'Noles were forced to punt.
FSU punter Chase Gwaltney dropped the snap and got off just a 12-yard kick and UNC took over at the FSU 35, extending the margin to 17-9 2:06 later on a 32-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.
On Florida State's next three possessions, they managed just one first down and five yards while UNC turned a Peppers interception, his second of the season, into another Reed field goal and a 20-9 advantage.
Yet, it was how the Heels closed out the Seminoles that was the day's biggest surprise.
The 'Noles had just 34 yards in the entire second half. In fact, of UNC's five sacks, four were in the final 30 minutes and the deepest FSU got into UNC territory was the Heels' 48.
"They got what they deserved – a win," said a surprised FSU Bowden. "We got what we deserved – a loss."
Curry, whom Bowden once called "the best high school player" he had ever seen, hadn't thrown a touchdown pass all year and finally got into the act in a big way. He found fellow senior Kory Bailey alone for a 53-yard scoring strike to put the Heels up 27-9 with 13:12 left in the game and the rout was on.
"I just tried to make a play," the Hampton- Va. native said of the score. "Kory just broke wide open. I think his guy took his eyes off him to see where the ball was and he just broke wide open. It was a great job by Kory."
Overall, UNC crossed the goal line three times in the final period and pulled away for Bunting's first win as his alma mater's head coach. It was also Carolina's first win over a top-ten team since the Heels won at Syracuse 27-10 in 1996.
"I think we played great," said Sims. "Our whole emphasis today was to play our best game that we have this year. I think that's what we went out and did today."
Curry capped off the scoring with a one-yard plunge to give Carolina its final points. The 41 point total bettered the school's previous high against FSU by a whopping 23 points, a 31-18 loss to the Seminoles in 1994.
The first half was more even and a defensive battle. However, UNC's offense wasn't putting the defense in bad situations early as it did against Oklahoma and Texas, and even tallied the game's first score.
After recovering a Rix fumble Carolina began a 61-yard scoring drive aided by a pair of nine-yard runs by Andre Williams but keyed by Sam Aiken's extra efforts and drama.
On 3rd and four at the FSU 27, Durant found Aiken over the middle just shy of the 23. However, Aiken's extra effort lunging forward picked up and extra three yards and gave the Tar Heels a crucial first down. Two plays later, Durant hooked up with Aiken again, this time for a 20-yard score as the Kenansville junior dove over a FSU defender crossing the plane of the goal line in mid air to give the Heels a 7-0 lead with 1:12 left in the first quarter.
Perhaps awakened by the surprising deficit, FSU's offense began to move the ball, but did so without busted plays or the scrambling of Rix, giving the offense some confidence.
The 'Noles tied it up on a 21-yard scoring strike from Rix to Talman Gardner with 5:18 left in the half. The connection came after UNC's Derrick Johnson, blitzing from the right corner, missed Rix, allowing the QB to hit a wide open Gardner. On the play, Carolina's Billy-Dee Greenwood turned the wrong way leaving him no less than 12 yards from the open receiver.
At this point, UNC's offense began to fall apart. On the Heels' next two possessions, they had an unheard of –29 yards rushing on six attempts while Curry was in at quarterback. Fifteen of those yards were attributed to a safety when UNC deep snapper Greg Warren snapped the ball over the head of punter John Lafferty's head and through the end zone. Since UNC had the ball at their own 15-yard-line at the time, the official ruling was a negative 15-yard rushing loss.
Carolina's defense dominated the early going, allowing FSU just 15 total yards and no first downs on their first three possessions.
"I said at halftime, we've been in this place before," Bunting said. "We were in this place at Maryland three weeks ago. I said to our players, ‘now lets make a difference.' I told them we can play with them, it's obvious. We can move the ball, we weren't turning the ball over. I reminded them of the way we played against Oklahoma in the second half, and then our guys just went out there and played really well."
That's an understatement.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.