UNC’s Win Over East Carolina, Explained By This Painting

I never saw this game make Saturday night’s college football highlights, so for those of you don’t know what happened in this game, I have a solution: PICTURE TIME!

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In Order:

Fig. A: Skip Holtz, Presented here as Blackbeard. As one can clearly see, he has brought a cutlass to a pistol fight.

Fig. B: Butch Davis, presented here as Robert Maynard, the naval officer credited for killing Blackbeard.

Fig. C: LORD QUANTAVIUS STURDIVANT, presented here as one of Maynard’s men, strangling the life out of another helpless offense.

Fig. D: Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd, presented here as a shadowy hand with a gun pointed at Blackbeard. They combined for 7 catches, 172 yards and two touchdowns, including Boyd’s monster 59 yard touchdown in the first half. You didn’t see that coming, did you?

Fig. E: Ron Cherry, presented here as a pirate about to slash Blackbeard’s throat with that terrible roughing the passer call.

Final tally: UNC 31, ECU 17. Rejoice, for the privateers will never more terrorize our fellow gentlemen at Charleston Harbor.

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UNC 2007 Football Season In a Nutshell: The Drummers of Spinal Tap

As of right now, UNC has the title of “most excusable 2-6 team in the nation”. However, it really has been difficult to categorize this exciting, yet frustrating year. It’s much easier to characterize our losses than the season as a whole, and with the magic of the Internet, I’ve stumbled upon something comparable: the ill-fated drummers of Spinal Tap.

This is exactly where UNC is this season: on the cusp of success, but always losing under bizarre and mysterious circumstances (most of which are their own doing).

ECU and Virginia games: “Bizarre gardening accidents.”

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The game at East Carolina was the first time the Tar Heels faced a division I-A offense, and it showed. Patrick Pinkney had a field day against the Carolina secondary, on route to over 400 passing yards. However, UNC’s offense was able to keep pace, and had the ball in a 31-31 game, in ECU territory, with less than two minutes left.

This is where things got out of hand. First, Yates fumbled the second down snap. Then, on 3rd and 4 from the 34, UNC have the ball to tailback Johnny White, who was stopped for no gain and set up a 51 yard field goal attempt. The snap was good, but Ryan Bauchom completely botched the hold, he had to fall on the ball. East Carolina regained possession near midfield with 53 seconds left, and eventually won on a last second field goal of their own, ironically after their kicker had missed his last 3 attempts.

Against Virginia, one of the plays that prevented us from winning the game was the 4th quarter interception by defensive lineman Chris Long, which eventually set up the game winning field goal. The Cavaliers did not always put pressure on T.J. Yates in the second half, but the entire game the defensive line managed to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage. On one such play, Chris Long managed to deflect the ball to himself, catch it, and run 30 yards the other way into field goal range. Julius Peppers is the only player I can recall who was able to make such a play in college. it was simply unbelievable.

The way we lost our first two games were so bizarre that we may never again see the Tar Heels lose in quite the same way.

Virginia Tech and South Carolina games: “You can’t really dust for vomit.”

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The Tar Heels had kept each of these games close, but had allowed teh game to slip away due to their own very-ill-timed mistakes.

Against Virginia Tech, North Carolina was well into the third quarter, only trailing 10-3 and driving to score. Ryan Houston had played a solid game up to this point at tailback, and Carolina was faced with a second a goal at the 5. Houston got the ball and was stopped at the line, but the ball was propelled out of his hands and into the end zone, where Virginia Tech recovered. Not long afterwards, T.J. Yates, having just gotten out of terrible field position, threw a pass that deflected off of Kenton Thornton’s fingertips and into the hands of Xavier Adibi, who returned the interception to the 3 yard line and set a up Brandon Ore’s game-winning touchdown. Without those turnovers, UNC wins the game.

The South Carolina game was even more self-sabotage. For example, Quan Sturdivant had recoverd a Mike Davis Fumble at the SC 15 yard line, and the UNC offense quickly proceeded to throw away their golden opportunity; sack, holding penalty, uncontested rush to the left side, ill-advised throw under pressure, easy interception. The Joe Dailey trick play pick was just as inexplicable. (The one pass they let him throw all year and it’s an interception. Go figure.) A few other missed opportunities, such as Greg Little’s two dropped touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, would have almost certainly changed the outcome of the game.

Certainly we had help along the way with these two games, but for the most part, we were responsible for our own demise.

South Florida and Wake Forest games: “You know, dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It’s just not really widely reported.”

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These were two games in which the Heels screwed up in just about every way possible. Carolina did a good job of keeping it under control for the middle of the game, but the team fell apart in spectacular fashion at the beginning and end of each of these contests. By the time it was over, all that was left of them was “a little green globule”.

Any future losses in 2007: “Well, I’m sure I’d feel much worse if I weren’t under such heavy sedation. “

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With four games left in the 2007 season, absolutely nothing should surprise us about this team. We have shown signs of promise in nearly every game we’ve played. More than 50 of the 84 players on our roster had never played a down of college football until this season. The Tar Heels have a nucleus of talented young players (42 true or redshirt freshmen), most of whom will be suiting up in 2008, 2009, and even 2010. This team will be very good, very soon. However, our inexperience makes pretty much every game a crapshoot; we cannot truly claim to know what will happen. So, losses to Maryland or Georgia Tech shouldn’t get your blood boiling too much.

The Duke game, of course, is when we make it big in Japan.

Men, In This Can Lies The Solution To All Of Our Problems!

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Our record says 2-4, and our statistics are roughly at where a 2-4 team should be (50th nationally on defense, 84th on offense). However, I can point to three plays this season–one in each game–that could have made us 5-1 if they played out differently.

All we had to do was not fumble.

  1. Fourth Quarter, about 10 minutes left. UNC is driving to score against the Pirates, game tied at 31. Hakeem Nicks catches a pass and runs to a first down at the 34. but he fumbles the ball, and ECU recovers. If he holds on to that ball, the continuing drive would have almost certainly led to a score. if UNC scores a touchdown or a field goal, ECU’s final drive is to go for the tie. UNC’s defense holds its own in the red zone, as they have the entire second half, and hold on to win. TheTar Heels are now 2-0.
  2. Fourth Quarter, eight minutes left. UNC is driving, down 22-14 to UVa. Yates completes a pass on 2nd and 4 to Zack Pianalto who gets a first down inside the 35. But the ball comes clean out on a fumble, and UVa. recovers. If he holds onto that ball, UNC would have gotten themselves at least in field goal range. Yate’s touchdown pass to Quinn with less than two minutes left gives UNC a 23-22 win. The Tar Heels are now 3-0, 1-0 in the ACC.
  3. Third Quarter, three minutes left. UNC is at the 5 yard line. It’s second and goal, the Heels are down 10-3, and they looked poised to tie the game. They hand the ball off to Ryan Houston, who is stopped at the 5 yard line comes flying out of his arms into the endzone. If he does nothing else but hold on to the ball, or even the Heels outhustle the Tech defense to the loose ball, UNC is almost assured of points in that drive. With a score, Yates doesn’t throw that interception to Xavier Adibi, and Carolina hangs on for a close victory on the heels of a great defensive performance. The Tar Heels are now 4-1, 2-0 in the ACC.

Other plays which could have turned the tide:

T.J. Yates’ botched snap: If he finishes the 2nd down play on the final drive, UNC gets a first down and continues running down the clock; UNC, not ECU, gets the game-winning FG as time expires.

Chris Long’s interception: That was a freak play, that required unbelievable athleticism on the part of long. Without the INT, the score remains 19-14, and UNC’s last-minute TD wins the game.

Eddie Royal’s reverse: on Virginia Tech’s very first play from scrimmage, their offense caught the Heels defense red-handed in overpursuit, running the reverse for 50-plus yards down the right sidelines to set up their only offensive touchdown of the day. Without that play, it’s the Hokies coming from behind the entire game.

One final statistic: in these games, UNC’s turnover margin was -5 (7 giveaways, 2 takeaways).

In each of these games we were one, or at the most two, plays away from victory. With those victories, UNC would be 5-1, 3-0 in the ACC, and 1st place in the Coastal division.

Now, the vast majority of these players have less than 300 collegiate plays from scrimmage under their belts, so they have a lot to learn. The Tar Heels have played their hearts out all season, and have improved some facet of their play in every game. The mere fact they were competing in all of these games shows that strides that Carolina has made in 2007. Also there are many, many other areas in which the Tar Heels need to improve. However, this exercise shows how much the outcome of a game, or even a season, can change with one play, especially turnovers. At some point in the next few years (or even this year), The Heels will be making those kinds of plays instead of giving them to opponents.

We’ll need a lot of stickum for when Spurrier and the #7th ranked Gamecocks come to Chapel Hill on Saturday.

ECU 34, UNC 31: “Well, Isn’t That Special!”

This was a very entertaining game. Both teams played extremely well offensively, but there were enough weird plays on special teams in the second half to make the Church Lady blush.

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On to the Heels’ breakdown.

On offense:

  • Brandon Tate was insane. Simply insane. In the entire game he touched the ball only nine times (3 receptions, 3 kick returns, and 3 punt returns. The result? 263 all-purpose yards and 3 touchdowns, or roughly 29 yards per touch and a touchdown for every three touches. Tate has really flourished under the new system, and once again shows me that the talent on this team was underachieving while Bunting was head coach.
  • T.J. Yates is the best quarterback in the ACC. I’m just as shocked as you are, but that’s what the statistics say. Yates is the conference leader in passing efficiency (191.2), yards per attempt (11.2) and yards per game (281), tied for 2nd in passing touchdowns (6), and 3rd in touchdown-to-interception ratio (3:1). On the downside, he received his first three career sacks courtesy of the Pirates. Of course he’s only played two games, one of which was a 1-AA opponent, but UNC seems to have a truly effective quarterback for the first time since Darian Durant.

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  • We have some very, very good receivers. The aforementioned Tate, who was already a special teams star, had 3 receptions for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns, which puts him atop the ACC in receiving yards and touchdowns after having caught…five passes. Only one receiver since 2004, Hakeem Nicks last year, caught more than 3 touchdown passes for an entire season. Nicks added 77 yards and a touchdown on 6 receptions, and Bobby Rome and Johnny White combined for over 100 yards receiving out of the backfield.
  • Nice to see that the passing game is working: Because the running game was still our major offensive weakpoint. In our first two games, UNC’s running-back-by-committee have averaged 89.5 yards, 95th in the nation. (Conversely, UNC’s passing game is 20th in the nation at 285.5 ypg.)
  • Your timing is just impeccable: Having given our offense sufficient praise, they played a part in Saturady’s loss. They played well as a whole, but fell prey to poor execution at the worst possible time.
    • With less than a minute to go in the second half, UNC was in the hurry-up offense trying to extend a slim 3-point lead when Yates threw an interception at midfield. East Carolina drove into the red zone and kicked the tying field goal before halftime.
    • Then in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Heels were driving down the field into ECU territory with a chance to break the 31-31 tie, having been very fortunate that East Carolina’s field goal had just hit the post. Yates threw a nice pass to Nicks for a first down, but he then fumbled the ball and East Carolina recovered, with good field position, and with less than 7 minutes on the clock.
    • After ECU managed to miss another potential game-winning FG, UNC was once again driving down the field, this time with a help of an effective running game. With a minute and a half remaining, the Heels were on 2nd down and 4 at the 34 yard line. T.J. Yates fumbled on the QB/center exchange, and was forced to fall on it.
    • The fumble was a wasted play, but the way UNC had been driving down the field all night, 3rd and five just out of field goal range was a very makable conversion. Instead of going to the air, Yates handed it off to Johnny White, who was stopped at the line for no gain.

    Four mistakes on offense, none of which were the botched 52-yard FG attempt, which was fairly unrealistic to make anyway. If the Heels had converted any one of these plays, we would probably be 2-0.

On defense:

  • Patrick Pinkney made us look really, really bad. UNC effectively stopped the run, but Pinkney lit up the secondary, completing nearly 75% of his passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns. When one considers that he was ECU’s third-string quarterback coming into the season…well, it just wasn’t a very good day for our defense.
  • A few stats:
    • East Carolina held the ball for 36:08 of the game.
    • The Heels forced 3 turnovers (and had opportunities for a few more) in their opener against James Madison. The didn’t force any on Saturday, and lost the turnover battle to the Pirates 2-0.
    • ECU converted seven of their 16 third down attempts (44%).
    • ECU put up 470 yards of offense in 75 plays, averaging roughly 6.5 yards per play.
    • The Pirates were held to 7 points and 261 yards against the Virginia Tech defense. This past Saturday, LSU put up 48 points and 598 yards against the exact same Virginia Tech defense.

Needless to say, the UNC defense had a rough night.

  • Don’t you have anything nice to say about the defense? Two of our defenders who performed well in this game were LB Durell Mapp and DT Kentwan Balmer. Mapp had 11 tackles and Balmer recorded two tackles for loss, including half of a sack with Hilee Taylor. Marvin Austin started for the first time in his career; he had one tackle for loss. And for all of the defensive struggle, the D did play well on occasion, forcing the Pirates to punt 6 times.

Special Teams:

  • Many happy returns: As I said before, Brandon Tate was unbelievable in this game. He returned six kicks and punts for 161 yards, an average of nearly 27 yards per return. The Pirates had a few good returns of their own; a 63 yard kick return led to a touchdown in the second half, and ECU started their average drive on their own 41 yard line. It’s a lot less difficult to score with a short field; say all you want about our defense, but the kickoff coverage team didn’t help them at all.
  • A day your kicker would like to forget: There were five botched kicks on the night. Connor Barth missed an extra point in the third quarter (although UNC converted the 2-point plat on the next TD), and he didn’t get the chance to kick a 52-yard game winner; his holder, Ryan Baucom, couldn’t handle the snap. Meanwhile, East Carolina’s Ben Hartman missed thee field goal from inside of 40 yards. But he made the two field goals that were the difference in this game: the one off of the interception to tie the game before halftime, and the 39-yarder to win it as time expired.

Final thoughts: T.J. Yates and UNC’s receivers will be a lot of fun to watch this year, and they should keep us in a lot of games. There are still two big question marks with this team. Can the defense step up when facing good opposition, and can the team avoid making costly mental mistakes? We should find out a lot more about this team when they open their ACC schedule against Virginia this Saturday.

Baseball Regional Day 2 Recap: HEEEELLLLL YEEEEAAAHHHH!!!

That was AWESOME! I’ll tell you about the Tar Heels, but first a recap of Game 1.

Western Carolina 7, Jacksonville 0I can’t say that I couldn’t foresee this happening. Jacksonville was clearly the weakest team in the field, but expected them to at least get some runs in this tournament. With the loss to the Catamounts they are eliminated, having produced 13 hits, 0 runs, and 4 errors. Western Carolina, was led by Steven Strasbaugh on offense (3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI) and by Drew Saberhagen, son of Bret Saberhagen (8 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 5 K). With this win they will play on Sunday in a rematch with ECU for the right to play Carolina in Sunday’s night game. But on to the main event.

North Carolina 11, East Carolina 10This may have been the most exciting baseball game I’ve ever attended in person. East Carolina is a very good team. Whenever it looked like the Tar Heels would have some control over the game, the Pirate offense blasted the door back open. After the Tar Heels struck first blood, ECU scored five runs in the top of the third inning, including a bases clearing double by Stephen Batts, to take a 5-1 lead. The Pirates offense did a very good job at the plate, but the umpire in this game sucked royally. His bad calls went for and against both teams in the game, and there was likely not a single person in the stadium who thought the ump (whose name is Scott Inman) did a good job in this game. Having said that, we got lucky in this game. We scored 4 and 3 runs in the 3rd and 6th innings, respectively, and the Pirates defense had 2 key fielding errors in each.

Still, the offense did enough to give ECU a seemingly safe 10-8 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning and the middle of the order (Horton, Flack, etc.) retired in the 8th. Shane Mathews came in to pitch for reliever Jason Nietz, and Mike Cavasinni came in to pinch hit. Mathews walked the first two batters. Garret Gore then hit a sacrifice bunt, sending Kyle Shelton and Cavasinni to 2nd and 3rd base with one out. With Reid Fronk at-bat, Mathews threw a wild, pitch, allowing Cavasinni to score from third and cut the deficit to one. The crowd in Boshamer stadium roared to a level usually reserved for football and basketball games. Finally, Fronk singled on a grounder up the middle, scoring Shelton, tying the game. Then came the two star UNC freshmen, Tim Fedroff and Dustin Ackley. Fedroff hit a single to bring Fronk to second base, then Ackley’s line drive down the middle scored the winning run, sending the crowd completely insane, cheering nonstop for three solid minutes after Fronk reached home plate.

It was a fantastic game, and I am now officially hooked on college baseball. I will have a more detailed (and definitely more entertaining) recap of this game later in the week.

Tomorrow- Western Carolina and East Carolina face each other again, as the Cats try to avenge blowing a 4 run lead against the Pirates on Friday. The Tar Heels await the winner, who will have to beat UNC twice if they wish to advance into the Super Regionals next week.

Recap: NCAA Baseball Regional Day 1

Big day of games. This is actually the first time I’ve been able to see a college baseball tournament, and I can hardly think of a better way to spend a Friday in the summer. Just be prepared to battle the heat.

East Carolina 9, Western Carolina 8- I thought Western Carolina had this game. The Catamounts were holding on to a 5-4 lead when they scored 3 runs in the top of the 6th to make it 8-4 in their favor. But the Pirates (whose fan base outnubmered WCU’s by about 15 to 1) immediately responded with 3 runs of their own in the bottom of the sixth. WCU was able to get out of their jam in the seventh inning, but Jamie Ray’s outfield single in the 8th drove in two runs to give ECU the lead for good. After their big sixth inning, the Catamounts offense was shut down completely by the Pirates bullpen.

The comeback by ECU was thrilling, but it’s been a while since I’ve sat outside for three hours in the middle of a June day in North Carolina. 90 degrees, 90% humidity. Just lovely.

UNC 6, Jacksonville 0- Thankfully, the heat cooled off significantly for this game, which made it a lot more fun for the fans. The heat really got to one fan, whose heat exhaustion was severe enough to require medical attention. In Game 1, I would say the stands were only about 70% full, and considering the heat, I was surprised it was that much. For Game 2, every seat in Boshamer Stadium was occupied.

The Tar Heels went ahead early, as Josh Horton, Chad Flack, and Kyle Seager hit three consecutive RBI doubles in the bottom of the 2nd inning to attain a 3-0 lead. That was enough cushion for starting pitcher Robert Woodard, who continued his perfect record at home this season. He allowed seven hits in 8 innings, but no runs. After grounding out the final batter in the eighth inning, he left the field to a standing ovation by the Carolina faithful. Tim Federowicz drove in two more runs in the bottom of the 8th to seal the game. Timmah!
Saturday- West Carolina plays Jacksonville in the elimination day game, while ECU and Carolina play the evening with a berth in the regional’s final game at stake. Pitching for the Tar Heels will be freshman standout Alex White, who is from ECU’s town of Greenville, NC. That should bring a bit of intrigue to the game: the hometown hero, now playing for the enemy.

The next set of games should be a lot of fun, especially since I know more about the teams. I hope that Saturday’s weather is a little cooler, so I can pay more attention to the game and less attention to whether or not my face is going to melt. But I guess that’s what sunblock is for.