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Bob Holliday

UNC-NCSU rivalry has delivered plenty of classics

Posted October 30, 2013
Updated October 31, 2013

Television rarely came calling on NC State and North Carolina in the old days. But in 1979, ABC decided to broadcast this rivalry on regional television. The network assigned my friend Jim Lampley to call the game, alongside former Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis.

Steve Davis posted one of the best records in the history of college football. The man went 32-1-1 in three probation-marred years at Oklahoma. He still won two national championships. He was raised on OU-Texas alongside the great State Fair of Texas in Dallas' Cotton Bowl. Now he was coming to the Triangle to do UNC and NC State alongside the North Carolina State Fair.

What would he think?

North Carolina stormed out to a 28-7 lead, but then the Pack, behind Scott Smith came roaring back. State drew to 28-21 and was driving toward a possible tying score. Smith dropped back to pass somewhere near midfield when a North Carolina player (and it may have been Lawrence Taylor) hit Smith as he was throwing. Was it a fumble or was it an incomplete pass? The argument rages today. The officials ruled fumble. And North Carolina went on to win 35-21.

I found the ABC guys after the game. “Steve what did you think?” I still get chills thinking about his response: “This ranks with any rivalry in the country.” THE COUNTRY! North Carolina at N.C. State Inside the Rivalry: NCSU vs. UNC Football

OK, perspective. Both teams were ranked in the Top 20 that season. State went on to win the ACC championship and UNC would beat Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Between the game and the State Fair, the roadways around Carter-Finley became completely swollen with cars and people. Also, it was a late afternoon start, a game played mostly under the lights, and the crowd was electric. But still, for an Oklahoma guy who called games in many of the great stadiums in the U.S. to discuss State and Carolina in the same paragraph as Ohio State-Michigan, OU-Texas and the SEC rivalries of the day certainly speaks to the intensity with which this game is played.

Dooley and Holtz

For me, the rivalry really grew up during the days of Bill Dooley and Lou Holtz. UNC hired Dooley from the SEC to build an ACC championship team, which he did. NC State brought in Holtz with the same goal in mind. Willis Casey’s decision to hire Holtz was probably cemented in 1971, when Holtz’s William & Mary team came within a two-point conversion of taking down the Tar Heels, who would go on to win the ACC title that year.

Consider what took place during the next four meetings:

  • 1972: UNC defeated NC State 34-33, as Holtz, now coaching the Pack, once again went for two and came up short.
  • 1973: NC State defeated UNC 28-26 as UNC failed on a potential game-tying conversion.
  • 1975: NC State defeated UNC 21-20, and if memory serves correct, the margin of victory was also a failed two-point conversion. After that game an emotionally exhausted Holtz told reporters, “These are the classic games.” I can still see the look on his face. He meant it.

Not all the games followed that script of course. The 1978 game would see Ted Brown run for 189 yards, and it would also see a run of UNC fans toward the exits, as the Pack prevailed 34-7. Following that game, Dick Crum and the Tar Heels won seven straight, and except for the 1979 game, most of those wins came fairly easily.

Sheridan and Brown

Enter Dick Sheridan. The 1986 meeting of the Red and Blue still ranks as one of the greatest. The game ended 35-34 State, as Carolina’s bid for a two-point conversion went awry. Sheridan, of course, won five straight in this series from 1988-1992, including the 12-9 game in 1990 that was settled by Damon Hartman’s 56-yard field goal. That dramatic kick remains the longest ever at NC State.

After losing his first five, Mack Brown eventually helped orchestrate a long winning streak for North Carolina. But fans seem to most remember the two UNC wins after Brown left – two games played at Bank of America Stadium.

Charlotte 1998: The Tar Heels overcame a phenomenal performance by NC State’s Tory Holt, to beat the Pack in overtime 37-34.

Charlotte 1999: A one-win Tar Heel team all but ruined State’s season when David Bomar tackled Chris Coleman inside the one-yard line to preserve a 10-6 Tar Heel upset. That game probably extended Carl Torbush’s UNC coaching career one more season, while it also helped lead to the demise of NC State’s Mike O’Cain.

The New Millennium

NC State alumnus Chuck Amato wanted the UNC winning streak to stay with the 1990s. His first Wolfpack team in 2000 crushed the Tar Heels in the fourth quarter, 38-20, as Cotra Jackson replaced the injured Ray Robinson, and ran for 94 yards and two touchdowns, all in fifteen minutes. Like David Bomar, Jackson will always be remembered in these parts for a few brief moments of glory.

There are so many other games we could cite:

T.A. McClendon in 2004: Did he break the plane of the end zone or was he stopped? Not even today’s television replay could have sorted that one out. Carolina happily put the 2004 game in John Bunting’s win column.

Russell Wilson 2009: Threw four touchdown passes against one of Butch Davis’ best UNC defenses as the Pack came from behind to win 28-27.

Russell Wilson 2010: More of the same. An improbable ricochet pass for a touchdown and a 34-yard run by Wilson which set up a second touchdown again pushed the Pack from behind to beat its arch-rival.

And of course there was last year. In a game that seemed certain to go to overtime, one ill-advised NC State punt to Gio Bernard put the Tar Heels in the winner’s circle for the first time since 2007. Some weeks after, Tom O’Brien, who enjoyed so much success against Carolina, was out of a job.

So this year, even though both teams sport losing records, we would expect another classic. NC State will spread the field with Brandon Mitchell and Shadrach Thornton challenging the Tar Heels’ improved but still somewhat porous defense (remember East Carolina’s spread attack?). UNC, with Bryn Renner passing and Marquise Williams running and throwing should also be able to move the ball.

This game could well come down to a two-point conversion, like so many others in the history of this game. Or it could come down to a long field goal. It could well be decided in overtime.

The big game no longer coexists with the State Fair. But the electricity in the air over west Raleigh Saturday will be palpable, as it was that day in 1979.

One postscript to this story. Tragically, Steve Davis was killed in a plane crash earlier this year. Not only was he a tremendous winner on the field, but he served as a great ambassador for college football from the broadcast booth. I will always appreciate what he said about NC State and Carolina: The Old North State Rivalry.

43 Comments

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  • TThMFs Nov 1, 1:34 p.m.

    This article makes it sound as though there is some kind of "parity" between The Flagship and... View More

    — Posted by unc4realz

    There is as much parity between these two programs as any in the NCAA. Since 1956, UNC holds a... View More

    — Posted by Ken D.

    Thanks for the levelheaded response Ken. It is nice to see that there are still a few sane UNC... View More

    — Posted by Deman

    Two good posts. However, you guys are using logic/ reason which is not applicable with 4sealz.(or whatever the SN of the day)

  • Deman Nov 1, 9:26 a.m.

    This article makes it sound as though there is some kind of "parity" between The Flagship and... View More

    — Posted by unc4realz

    There is as much parity between these two programs as any in the NCAA. Since 1956, UNC holds a... View More

    — Posted by Ken D.

    Thanks for the levelheaded response Ken. It is nice to see that there are still a few sane UNC fans posting here. ;)

    For the record...since the start of the ACC (seems like a good break point) UNC leads State 33-27. For the 42 games played during the ancient times, UNC leads 31-5-6.

  • Gunnstigator Nov 1, 7:26 a.m.

    ^^^^^

    Thanks, guys. As little as I know about betting, this is one game I wouldn't bet on.

  • jmcdow2792 Nov 1, 5:56 a.m.

    Betting lines are usually set on things like records, talent, and other measureables. I don't think this game will be won or lost on the measureables. It will be a matter of desire to win. The point spread will likely be meaningless. Go Pack!

  • TThMFs Oct 31, 8:31 p.m.

    I've seen some online books where you bet/ lay $100 you win $91(collect $191). If you lose you lost $100.

  • TThMFs Oct 31, 8:28 p.m.

    Usually 10%. Bet $110 to win $100(collect $210) If you lose you are out $110.

  • Gunnstigator Oct 31, 8:21 p.m.

    ^^^Must not understand gambling on sports. The lines are set to get people to bet. Not on who... View More

    — Posted by TThMFs

    Very true about Casinos. I don't understand much about betting, so it's a good thing I don't bet. How do the casinos get their "juice", which is what I've heard they make their money on - they really don't care which team wins.

  • TThMFs Oct 31, 8:15 p.m.

    ^^^Must not understand gambling on sports. The lines are set to get people to bet. Not on who they are thrilled with ...the line opened at 3 now is 5.5. It has NEVER been 1.5. It has increased meaning bets placed on ewenc. Now trying to get money on NCSU. BTW, the public is usually wrong. Casinos are not built off winners.

  • fouroaksboys Oct 31, 7:49 p.m.

    VEGAS DOESNT SEEM TO BE TO THRILLED WITH THE PACK, OH I DIDNT MEAN THE NEVADA WOLFPACK EITHER! THE POINT SPREAD WAS 1 1/2 ITS NOW UNC BY 6

  • sportfan Oct 31, 2:41 p.m.

    This game does not matter BOTH TEAMS STINK GO DUKE

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
NCSU 24
GASO 23
Final
DUKE 52
ELON 13
 
Final
UNC 56
LBRTY 29
7:05pm Saturday
NOR 4
DUR 1
 
Final
ECU 52
NCCU 7
 
5:05pm Tonight
DUR
NOR
 
Final
TOR 2
NYY 0
Final
CWS 6
DET 3
Final
STL 1
CHC 5
Final
PIT 3
CIN 2
Final
BAL 3
MIN 2
Final
TAM 7
BOS 0
Final
KAN 2
CLE 3
Final
CWS 4
DET 8
Final
ATL 0
MIA 4
Final
NYM 2
PHI 7
Final
HOU 2
TEX 0
Final
ARI 0
COL 2
Final
STL 13
CHC 2
Final
SDP 2
LOS 1
Final
SFG 3
MIL 1
Final
ANA 2
OAK 0
Final
SEA 1
WAS 3
1:07pm Today
TOR
NYY
 
1:10pm Today
NYM
PHI
 
1:35pm Today
PIT
CIN
 
1:35pm Today
BAL
MIN
 
1:40pm Today
TAM
BOS
 
2:10pm Today
CWS
DET
 
2:10pm Today
HOU
TEX
 
2:15pm Today
STL
CHC
 
3:35pm Today
ANA
OAK
 
4:05pm Today
SFG
MIL
 
4:10pm Today
ARI
COL
 
4:10pm Today
SDP
LOS
 
4:10pm Today
SEA
WAS
 
5:10pm Tonight
ATL
MIA
 
8:07pm Tonight
KAN
CLE
 
Final
MICH 52
APPST 14
Final
NAVY 17
OSU 34
Final
UAB 48
TROY 10
Final
UVA 20
UCLA 28
Final
PURD 43
WMICH 34
Final
NCSU 24
GASO 23
Final
UMASS 7
BC 30
Final
NW 24
CAL 31
Final
NEB 55
FATL 7
Final
UMO 27
MARS 42
Final
ND 48
RICE 17
Final
MIZZ 38
SDST 18
Final
ALA 33
WVU 23
Final
AUB 45
ARK 21
Final
STAN 45
UCD 0
Final
UGA 45
CLEM 21
Final
UNC 56
LBRTY 29
Final
KSU 14
OHIO 17
Final
OKLA 48
LATU 16
Final
KST 55
SAUST 16
Final
USC 52
FRES 13
Final
MSST 49
SMISS 0
Final
OKST 31
FSU 37
Final
TEX 38
UNT 7
Final
NMU 24
UTEP 31
8:05pm Saturday
UF 0
IDAHO 0
Final
LSU 28
WISC 24
Final
OREG 62
SD 13
Final
HAW 16
WASH 17
7:00pm Tonight
TENN
UTST
7:30pm Tonight
BAY
SMU
Final
DUKE 52
ELON 13
 
Final
ECU 52
NCCU 7
 
7:05pm Saturday
NOR 4
DUR 1
 
5:05pm Tonight
DUR
NOR