CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) _ North Carolina's players knew all season there would be no bowl and no conference championship game due to NCAA sanctions.
When the end finally came, the Tar Heels still chose to celebrate _ down to dousing their first-year coach with a cooler of water as the final seconds ticked away.
Bryn Renner tied a school record with five touchdown passes, while Gio Bernard ran for 163 yards and a score to help North Carolina beat Maryland 45-38 in the finale for both teams Saturday.
While the Tar Heels (8-4, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) were ineligible to claim the league's Coastal Division championship, they still made it a goal to win what amounted to an unofficial title. They accomplished that by beating the Terrapins (4-8, 2-6).
The win would've secured a tiebreaker over Georgia Tech and Miami for an appearance in next week's ACC championship game if not for the NCAA penalties connected to violations for improper benefits and academic misconduct following a probe launched in summer 2010.
"That was our No. 1 goal this year, was to be Coastal Division champs," Fedora said. "So it means everything to us. It gives us a lot of momentum going into the offseason, going into recruiting and going into next year."
As the final seconds ticked away, UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams _ one of the seniors who stuck around instead of transferring after the NCAA sanctions were announced in March _ doused Fedora with the cooler, then wrapped an arm around his coach.
"I said I was going to get him after the game," Williams said. "He's a great coach. I love him to death. He did a lot for me. ... I've got a tremendous amount of respect for him. Hopefully he'll be one of those guys whose number I'll always have saved in my phone for the rest of my life and I'll always be able to call now and then _ even if it's just to talk."
Freshman Quinshad Davis had nine catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns for the Tar Heels, who blew the game open with a dominating third quarter en route to their sixth game of at least 40 points with Fedora's no-huddle spread attack.
Brandon Ross ran for 141 yards and a touchdown for the Terrapins, who closed their second straight bowl-less season under Randy Edsall. They led 35-21 after Stefon Diggs' 99-yard kickoff return to open the second half, which capped a flurry of three touchdowns in 34 seconds of game action.
But UNC answered with 24 straight points to take control, starting when Renner connected with Davis for a 50-yard scoring pass and then found Erik Highsmith for a 15-yard touchdown to tie it. Thomas Moore put the Tar Heels ahead to stay with a 22-yard field goal midway through the third, then Bernard _ who tallied his fifth 100-yard rushing game this season _ scored from 1 yard out to make it 45-35 late in the quarter.
While Renner and the Tar Heels heated up, Maryland's offense _ led by converted linebacker Shawn Petty due to a rash of injuries at quarterback _ couldn't sustain any drives or come up with a momentum-killing answer. After racking up 304 yards by halftime, Maryland had 14 plays for minus-7 yards with just one first down in the third quarter.
The Terrapins managed a field goal to make it a one-possession game with 3:12 left, but the Tar Heels moved the chains behind Bernard to run out the clock and send Maryland into the offseason with six straight losses.
"With what this group of young men faced this year, they stood tall and stared it right in the face and gave everything that they had to the very end," Edsall said. "They left it on the field, and there's nobody who should have any regrets."
There were also a few chants of "ACC! ACC!" from North Carolina fans during the final seconds, a jab at Maryland's announcement earlier this week that it would leave the ACC for the Big Ten in 2014.
Renner completed 28 of 39 passes for 305 yards for UNC, and nearly had his sixth TD pass of the day when he found Davis for what appeared to be a 10-yard score. But officials reviewed the play and determined Davis was down inside the 1, leading to Bernard's short scoring run.
Renner finished the year with a school-record 28 touchdown passes, while the Tar Heels set school records for most points (487) and highest scoring average (40.6) for a season.
Bernard was unavailable after the game due to an illness. Fedora said he would meet with his star tailback Sunday to discuss his options about whether to return for his junior season or enter the NFL draft.