Thursday, December 30, 2010

Carolina overcomes penalties, injuries and officials to win bowl game in OT

Even though North Carolina led for much of the Music City Bowl, with the injuries, penalties, miscues and bad breaks, it never seemed like a game that was meant to be.

But it was. When all was said and done, the Tar Heels had defeated Tennessee 30-27 in double overtime tonight.

Down 20-17 with only 31 seconds to go, UNC's Todd Harrelson, who made one catch all season long, made a remarkable high-wire catch near midfield and was roughed up by Tennessee defender Janzen Jackson who launched airborne leading with his head. The penalty moved the ball down to the 37.

A TJ Yates pass to Dwight Jones got it down to the 25 yet a very late hit by Tennessee's LaMarcus Thompson was not called. Carolina instead had to spike the ball with 16 seconds left.

A run by Shaun Draughn moved it to the 17 but the Heels had trouble getting to the line to stop the clock in order to set up the field goal. The officials first announced that the game was over but upon review it was determined that, while some of the field goal team was on the field, there was a second left when Yates spiked it. There was a penalty for too many players on the field but kicker Casey Barth still was able to drill the 39-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.

Tennessee was called for a penalty - it's unclear if it was for roughing the kicker or for a player throwing his helmet in disgust but it could have been either. The Vols luckily won the overtime toss because had Tennessee been forced to go on offense first, the Vols would have started from the 40 yard line. Instead, Carolina started on offense at the 12 and a half. Three plays later, including one where Tennessee was charged for another personal foul (facemask), Yates snuck it in from inside the one to put Carolina up 27-20.

The official inexplicably waited to see if Yates had the ball in the middle of the pile. Since Yates reached the ball over the goal line it shouldn't have mattered. It was a touchdown as soon as the ball crossed the plane.

Nevertheless, Yates - fortunately for the Heels - still had the ball. Tennessee was able to score on a Tyler Bray to Luke Stocker TD strike on second down.

With the score tied at 27-27, the Vols went right back on offense. Four plays into the Volunteers' series, UNC linebacker Quan Sturdivant reached high for an interception, setting the scene for Carolina to go on offense from the 25 only needing a field goal.

Draughn bumped outside for a 16-yard run to the nine and then he ran it to the six. Carolina opted to go ahead and try the short field goal on second and goal from there. Barth drilled it for the improbable win.

Draughn, a senior, who ran for 160 yards, was named the game's most valuable player. Senior defensive back Deunta Williams wasn't as fortunate as he broke his ankle in the first half. That was a big blow as Bray had more luck throwing after Williams went out. Defensive lineman Donte Paige-Moss was also banged up and missed some action but came back to block a Tennessee extra point by Daniel Lincoln, allowing Carolina to later tie the game with a field goal.

Tennessee fans - and they were in the vast majority by virtue of the game being in Nashville - littered the end zones with cups and cans and beer on several occasions late in the game and in overtime, including at the game's end.

The Tar Heels led 7-0 early, then led 10-7 and led 17-14 into the fourth quarter. But penalties disrupted them, injuries slowed momentum and every break seemed to go Tennessee's way until late. Carolina finishes the eventful, tumultuous season at 8-5.

Poor officiating

The Heels committed 11 penalties for 92 yards. Three of those penalties came on a late-game drive with Carolina trailing 20-17. At least one of the calls, an intentional grounding call on QB TJ Yates, was questionable. No, the ball didn't make it to the line of scrimmage as the officials pointed out but two players were hanging on Yates. In that circumstance, he shouldn't be expected to get it to the line of scrimmage.

While the officials ultimately got several key calls right, they not only took too much time but there were tough calls both ways. However, Carolina seemed to have to overcome more of the bad calls or the no calls.

Coming off watching Kansas State lose to Syracuse in great part due to an unsportsmanlike penalty where a player was flagged for saluting the fans after a score, viewers of this game must have wondered why no similar calls in this game.

After each of his four touchdown passes, brash freshman QB Tyler Bray made a slashing celebratory motion. Tennessee receiver Gerald Jones not only danced after a touchdown, he made a double salute motion to the fans. Later, Vols receiver Da'Rick Rogers, after a score, made some weird belt buckling motion. While in each of these instances the players "drew attention" to themselves, which was the explanation why the Kansas State player was flagged, not one flag was thrown.

Twice Tennessee converted big first downs on plays where offensive linemen should have been called for moving early. Meanwhile, on top of the questionable grounding call mentioned earlier, Carolina was called for a mysterious illegal shift. The announcers assumed it must have been because the fullback was rocking a bit as another player was in motion. Whatever - not much of an offence. If they were calling them that closely, the early motions on the Vols offensive line could have been called multiple times but was never called once.

When Tennessee's defense was called for offsides, it worked to the Volunteers advantage because the officials, again inexplicably, called the play dead. It should have been a free play and Yates knew it as he was honing in on a receiver for what could have been a big gain. But whistles blew it dead.

Another controversial play that I suspect officials got right, even though replays didn't show it clearly, was when UNC's Dwight Jones presumably stepped out of bounds, came back in and caught the ball for what would have been a critical first down late in the game. Officials called illegal touching.

For any ABC fans reading this article, I urge you to watch it on replay before you dispute what I'm writing. I have the game taped and I have gone back and verified everything I've written.


  1. The Heels had to work hard for this one. Congrats to them. Good article Cliff.
    Wolfie '61

  2. Thanks Wolfie. Too bad these two teams won't be playing that scheduled series... especially without this Big Ten crew. Plus, as we were told by the TV announcers about 312 times, Tennessee has a lot of good freshmen so they should be good for a while. Of course Carolina's future is suspect with possible NCAA sanctions and the effects on recruiting. But no one can take anything away from the guys who did things the right way and were there on the field to fight through a tough season and win one of the most exciting games of the bowl season - or the season for that matter.