• Thu. Nov 24th, 2022

UNC football motivated by shocking 2021 loss to NC state


NC State wide receiver Emeka Emezie (86) makes the game-winning touchdown reception while North Carolina defenseman Cam’Ron Kelly (9) makes a save late in the second half of NC State’s 34-30 win over UNC in the Carter- Finley Stadium defended on November 24th 26th 2021.

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From to nine with 2:04 remaining to exit Carter Finley Stadium in a 34-30 loss.

It’s not something the North Carolina players have been constantly reliving as they prepare to face rivals NC State in Friday’s regular-season finals. But rest assured they remember the details of one of the most impressive defeats they have ever been a part of.

“It was like a blink of an eye because I was actually on the onside team, so I was on the field when they regained the onside kick,” said UNC senior edge rusher Chris Collins. “So that was a different[feeling]from, ‘This can’t happen.’ It felt like a nightmare. You know what? When I woke up it was still real. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, it wasn’t a good feeling.”

Senior nose tackle Ray Vohasek tore his left labrum against Virginia Tech and will not compete for the Tar Heels on Friday. He said losing that game was a big reason he returned to school for another year.

“There’s going to be a lot of emotions and things like that on senior night, but I just want to beat State,” Vohasek said. “After last year, one of my main goals was to win this game.”

Vohasek fired Devin Leary as the pack took possession after a 50-yard field goal gave Carolina a 30-21 lead last season. But right in the next game, Leary connected with Emeka Emezie for a 64-yard touchdown pass in a game where cornerback Tony Grimes awaited safety Cam Kelly for help over the top.

That lasted 29 seconds. And when Christopher Dunn recovered an onside kick against himself, the pack went back 54 yards in 24 seconds to take the lead, again with a touchdown pass from Leary to Emezie.

“I was honestly shocked,” said senior left tackle Asim Richards. “We had it, a few minutes until the ballgame, and it just crashed on us.”

UNC coach Mack Brown said he also didn’t talk about losing to the Wolfpack last season as a motivating factor. He actually tried that last week by bringing up Georgia Tech’s win over the Heels last season in Atlanta.

Carolina talked about the potential for a dreaded trap game all week and then played so in a 21-17 loss.

“I took revenge from last year’s Georgia Tech game and it really helped,” Brown joked. “When you have 120 (players), they all get something different. You can’t talk (resonate) with so many and one thing. You remember.”

For Collins especially, it’s something he can’t forget. And as he makes his fourth start in place of injured graduate transfer Noah Taylor at UNC’s ‘Jack’ position, he’s not quite ready to let it go. He wants to make sure the senior league goes out with a win against the Wolfpack in their final game at Kenan Stadium.

“Personally, I know it was a huge motivation for me,” Collins said. “I remember how it felt to leave your field with a loss. It just didn’t feel good, especially for the seniors. And that’s the biggest thing, being a senior this year.

An outline of the state of North Carolina hangs in the Tar Heels team briefing room with the names of the four opponents from this year’s season schedule. After wins against Appalachian State, Duke and Wake Forest, the interlocking NC logo has obscured the names. The last remaining is NC State, and a win over the Pack would allow the Tar Heels to lay claim to the unofficial state title.

That’s enough motivation for North Carolina to focus on Friday rather than next week’s ACC Championship game against Clemson.

“At the end of the day, it’s a big game because it’s the next game and they’re about to go,” Collins said. “…You don’t want to screw it up near home, as Coach Brown is fond of saying, just because we always see these guys. That’s boasting for 365 days. All you heard was that loss. I know that’s all we heard about dating these guys was last year’s loss. I definitely want to change that.”

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CL Brown reports on the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings more than two decades of reporting experience, including stints as a beat writer at Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stint with the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he received an APSE award, he had stints at ESPN.com, The Athletic and even attempted to run his own website, clbrownhoops.com.