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! 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.