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.

Dean Smith releases statement about Coach K's 880th victory

After Duke destroyed UNC-Greensboro yesterday to notch Coach Mike Krzyzewski's 880th coaching victory, surpassing Dean Smith's 879 wins, the former UNC coach released this statement: "I congratulate Mike on this milestone victory. I am sure he would want to share the credit for the wins with all his players and staff. I enjoyed competing against Mike's teams throughout the many years I was at UNC. I wish him continued health and personal success."

Here's video of Coach K celebrating with the fans and players after the win.

ECU overachieved but have to be disappointed in bowl loss

No one wants to finish a season with a 51-20 loss but it stings even more for East Carolina fans who braved the treacherous road conditions to drive up to D.C. only to see their Pirates not only lose big in a bowl game but finish the season below .500.

The way the Pirates defense has played much of the year, it really wasn't much of a surprise to see Maryland rack up the points. But the Pirates, who averaged close to 40 points a game this season, had little to no offense and QB Dominique Davis looked his worst this season.

With so many bowl games, there are bound to be teams that go with a .500 record but it's really a shame after the overachieving season the Pirates had to lose more games than they won. I know it's a reward and it's a financial plus I suppose but it might be better for most 6-6 teams to stay home and leave it at that.

ECU senior linebacker Dustin Lineback said, “We were picked to win two games. Memphis and Marshall – and we did that plus some. It’s alway down to lose the last game, we didn’t want that. But this team is a great team. In the future, the sky is the limit.”

Ruffin McNeill certainly brought excitement and more wins that most predicted. We at capitalsportsnc.com predicted that the Pirates would win four games but we did say that five wins was doable and that if ECU got to six wins McNeill should be considered for conference coach of the year. After that kind of final loss, maybe not but the future does look bright for the Pirates.

Also, word from my sources indicate that the rotund McNeill will have some sort of weight-reducing surgery before next season but I haven't heard any official word on that. If he does get his weight under control, the future will look even brighter for ECU.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tar Heels peaking but still have issues as ACC schedule looms

North Carolina seems to be peaking just as the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule is about to begin. The Heels appear to be 10 deep, especially evidenced by Leslie McDonald's 14 points and Justin Watts' 10 points in last night's 78-55 win over Rutgers.

But there are at least three troubling trends. First, the free throw shooting is poor at 64 percent. Compare that with the 2009 team that shot 75 percent and the 2008 team that shot 76 percent.

Second, Harrison Barnes has not settled in as the star Carolina needs him to be. He's shooting just 36 percent from the field, which is second worst on the team, even though he has more minutes played than any other Tar Heel. Against Rutgers he hit just three of nine shots.

Finally, John Henson seems to still be bothered by a thumb injury. He managed seven points and four blocked shots against Rutgers but he seemed limited and appeared to favor the hand.

Still, the team has survived with strong play from Tyler Zeller and Dexter Strickland, and good bench play. Against Rutgers, the Carolina bench outscored the Scarlet Knights bench 38-13.

The Heels have one more nonconference game before opening the ACC schedule at surprising Virginia, 8-4, Jan. 8.

For more on the Rutgers game, please click here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Resilience marks Wolfpack football season

Elizabeth Edwards took the word and made it hers, but you can look at the N.C. State football team of 2010 and see resilience etches in faces on the field.

That trait was evident again Tuesday in a pulsating 23-7 win over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl. Russell Wilson snatched the headlines with 275 yards of passing and 41 yards rushing. Wilson is so savvy, and so elusive, that you almost forget State even has any running backs. And Wilson's numbers would have been much higher if his receivers had not had so many drops.

But the play that made the game came from the other side, and it was oh so typical of this Wolfpack team. West Virginia trailed by just nine points when quarterback Geno Smith gunned the balldownfield in the fourth quarter. The ball roared off his arm toward an open receiver knifing behind the Wolfpack defense, but safety Brandon Bishop swooped over for a stunning interception.

That throw, had Bishop missed his timing, was an easy touchdown, and a two-point game. But Bishop made a Pro Bowl level snag that had him fully extended in the air and grabbing the ball with both hands. After State had given up whopping passing yards to UNC and Maryland, Bishop's play made a statement that the Pack would not yield again.

But the Wolfpack has been like that this year. State never lost two straight games and came back in convincing fashion after each defeat. Tuesday's game came off a disappointing effort at Maryland, but there was no flat performance from the Wolfpack.

The future of Russell Wilson remains uncertain, and there's no question he is one of the school's all-time great players and worthy of having his jersey retired. But whether Wilson returns or not, Tom O'Brien seems to have finally found the type of team he wants at N.C. State - tough, determined ... resilient. That's a superb foundation for a program that turned an important corner in 2010.

Tigers have no trouble with Delaware State

This isn't a good sign for Wolfpack fans. In case you missed it, Clemson pounced on visiting Delaware State Monday night, winning 76-41 and leading by 21 at the half. The Associated Press story said the visitors "struggled to find open shots."

That had not been a problem for Delaware State in an earlier game at N.C. State, when they hit 9 of 22 three-point shots. The Wolfpack barely held on for a two-point win when Scott Wood scored in the final seconds.

Delaware State is now just 4-7.

Clemson, by the way, is 9-4 under new coach Brad Brownell, who was the head coach at UNC-Wilmington for four seasons before leaving for four years at Wright State.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Elzy will not play in Carolina's bowl game Thursday

The University of North Carolina football team and staff arrived in Nashville, Tenn., throughout the day Sunday to begin preparations for the 2010 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 30.

Senior tailback Anthony Elzy also did not travel with the Tar Heels to Nashville and will not compete in the bowl game after failing to meet his obligations as a student-athlete at UNC.

Elzy started the final three regular-season games at tailback in place of Johnny White and produced 531 all-purpose yards (176.7 avg.) in games vs. Virginia Tech, NC State and Duke. He had a career-high 118 yards rushing in his final game at Duke and had a career-high 178 yards receiving vs. NC State.

State's Leslie selected as ACC rookie of the week

NC State’s C.J. Leslie was selected the ACC Rookie of the Week following his 15-point effort this past week.

In NC State's lone game last week, Leslie finished with 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds in the Pack's 72-70 win over Delaware State Wednesday. For the sixth straight game, Leslie led the Pack in rebounding. The Holly Springs, N.C., native also handed out a career-best four assists in his 34 minutes of action.

ECU's bowl bid a worthy reward for its season

East Carolina deserves some love for making the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C., and facing Maryland in what really could have been a set-back year for the Pirates.

Losing Skip Holtz could have been a colossal blow for this program, and still could be. But so far, you have to be impressed by coach Ruffin McNeill's body of work. His  players love him, he exudes passion for the school, and he righted a Pirate ship that could have taken on a great deal of water this year.

ECU's defense put up some dreadful numbers this season. The Pirates gave up 43.4 points per game and allowed rivals to convert a stunning 52 percent of their third downs. Even worse, opponents converted 71 percent of their fourth downs.

The Pirates somehow salvaged a 6-6 record, stealing a win over Tulsa in the opener and beating N.C. State in overtime - to gain a bowl berth.  If they surprise Maryland on Wednesday, they'll have a winning season.

Holtz, by the way, had success at South Florida. His Bulls beat Miami 23-20 in overtime - aiding the departure of Randy Shannon - and lost their finale to UCon on a 52-yard field goal with 17 seconds left. A 7-5 record was good enough to put South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Clemson.

The contrast in that game will be stark. Clemson continues to be the ACC's most underachieving franchise in football, a Dabo Swinney's 6-6 mark this season didn't have the IPTAY club roaring with delight. An overtime loss at Auburn - a game Clemson should have won - seemed to symbolize the season for both teams. The Auburn Tigers escaped one noose after another en route to a berth in the title game, while the Clemson Tigers bumbled to close losses to Miami and UNC that derailed any hopes of a big year.

Quarterback Kyle Parker had a mediocre year, with 12 touchdown throws and 10 interceptions. You have to believe Clemson fans will watch this game and wonder what the Tigers would look like if Skip Holtz were leading the orange down the hill.