"It's the best feeling," quarterback Darian Durant said. "We haven't felt this way in a long time. That's going to make the bus ride back a lot more special."
A game that looked on paper like it might be a high-scoring affair, started out slowly. The first quarter ended in a scoreless tie--and less than 100 yards of total offense--with penalties thwarting each team's best chance to score, even taking three points off the scoreboard by the Tar Heels on a field goal by Dan Orner.
Carolina first got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter when Darian Durant completed a 34-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Mike Mason on an up-for-grabs ball as part of his 198 yards (15-25) on the day.
"It was called the 'slow-go' route," Mason said. "I fake the slant and then do a fade. When I faked the slant, he bit on it pretty good. It was a jump ball, but he caught back up. He was catching up and got there at the right time, so I knew I had to make an attempt to get the ball. I had to jump over him to get it."
After a Pirate field goal, the UNC offense had a chance to extend the lead late in the second quarter when a wide open tight end Bobby Blizzard dropped a Darian Durant pass that would have moved the Tar Heels deep out of their own territory and over mid-field. An interference call on the ensuing punt gave the ball to ECU on the UNC 47, and the Pirates proceeded to march down the field in nine plays to score a touchdown on a pass from Desmond Robinson to tight end Tutu Moye and move ahead 10-7.
"We were not executing mentally in the first half," Bunting said, "and we did not execute mentally on the last touchdown that they scored before halftime. That never should have happened--on that play, at least."
In previous games this season, the Tar Heel offense has had to abandon the running game and become a passing team in an attempt to catch up. But a close game in the second half allowed UNC to grind away 167 yards on the ground and run clock.
Junior running back Chad Scott had his coming-out party with 40 yards on the ground and 63 yards receiving, including a reception for 32 yards.
"I've just been waiting for the opportunity for the coaches to give me [a chance] to show what I could do," Scott Said. "They gave me the opportunity tonight, and I made the best of it."
And the defense did their part, limiting the Pirates to only 113 yards of offense in the second half.
"Somehow we have gotten the reputation that we aren't a good defensive team," freshman linebacker Larry Edwards said. "We just had to come out and prove that we are. We practiced hard this week and we played hard in the game…Our coach told us to keep our heads up, come back out, and play 'Carolina football.' That's what we did. We played hard, fast, and smart, and we have to take that attitude into next week."
A 33-yard pass to freshman tight end John Hamlett put Carolina up 21-10 early in the fourth quarter, but the ECU drew to within four on the very next drive on a long pass play for a touchdown from the UNC 26.
With the Tar Heels up just 21-17, the Carolina offense took the field mid-way through the fourth quarter with a chance to put it out of reach for good if they could only score a touchdown and run the clock in the process.
"I said 'Let's go get it!'" Durant exclaimed. "All year long we haven't had any rushing touchdowns by our backs. I said, 'Go get you one. This is your time.' The line responded with some crucial blocks, and the backs did what they had to do."
The Carolina offense marched 72 yards down the field in 11 plays--the final 10 on the ground--and used almost six minutes of clock. The final play came on a one-yard scoring run by freshman tailback Ronnie McGill, who had 67 yards on the night, 44 on the final drive.
Tailback Jaque Lewis added 67 yards on seven carries for the game--an astounding 9.4-yard average.
"The key is when we came out in the second half," McGill said. "We knew if we pounded them down, by the end of the game they'd be out of energy and we'd still be going."
"How satisfying was that?," Bunting said. "That was unbelievable. Are you kidding me? I'm not even going to say how good I felt because it would be X-rated."
Durant reached no career milestones on this night as he has on several nights this season--all losses--but remarked with a gleam in his eye, "I don't care. We got the win."