I am half tempted to include the video of the Gio Bernard punt return and simply stop with that. After all, most anything I try to add to what Giovani Bernard did with 30 seconds left against NC State would be inadequate. It was an incredible moment culminating with Bernard in tears on the sideline just minutes after he waved Roy Smith off so he could take the punt himself on a bad ankle. It was five years worth of frustration exploding on an epic punt return that enters the lore of Tar Heel football just a notch below Connor Barth's kick to beat Miami in 2004.
As for the rest of the game, the "game of runs" cliche comes to mind. UNC opened up a 25-7 lead in the first quarter and then did not score again until the fourth quarter. NC State reeled off 28 unanswered points to take a 35-25 lead and give UNC fans everywhere that uneasy "not again" feeling. For the better part of three quarters the Tar Heel defense awful. There was no pressure on NC State QB Mike Glennon who took the ample time in the pocket to carve up the Tar Heel secondary. How bad did it get? NC State was facing a 3rd and 24 on its own 17 and Glennon found Tobias Palmer wide open with a good 15 yards to spare for an 83-yard touchdown which gave NCSU the lead for the first time. Glennon killed UNC on deep throws, underneath routes and had it not been for 6-7 dropped passes from Wolfpack receivers it could have been far worse. Still, for as much offense as the Wolfpack piled up they failed to salt the game away. Dropped passes were part of that as were turnovers. UNC intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble to stop three NC State drives. However in the fourth quarter it was a conscious effort made on the part of the UNC defense to pressure Glennon more. That effectively disrupted the Wolfpack offense enough to give UNC a chance.
With UNC trailing 35-25, the Heels mounted a 74-yard touchdown drive that included heavy doses of Bernard, who as this point, has his injured ankle heavily taped. Bernard caught a screen pass for 19 yards and rushed for 25 more including a three yard touchdown run to draw the Heels within three. After forcing two more Wolfpack punts, UNC got a Casey Barth field goal to tie the game with 1:24 left and seemingly plenty of time for the Wolfpack to drive for the game winning points. That notion was snuffed out by linebacker Kevin Reddick who sacked Glennon for a seven yard loss. NC State then decided to play for overtime and burn the rest of the clock. This was not necessarily a bad idea except UNC had two timeouts left which Larry Fedora used to force a Wolfpack punt with 30 seconds left. The rest, as they say, is history.
On the day Bernard registered 304 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns which included 135 yards on the ground and 95 yards receiving. Bryn Renner threw for 358 yards, a touchdown and interception. Eric Ebron also had a solid day with 79 yards receiving and even played on the defensive side. Despite the issues shutting down the Wolfpack passing game, UNC kept NC State in check in the rushing game and also recorded five sacks.
UNC moves to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in ACC play. The Heels head into a much needed bye week still very much alive for First Place Finisher honors in the Coastal Division. More than that, the Tar Heels avoided going 0-3 against in-state ACC schools and got a five ton gorilla of their back in legendary fashion.