RALEIGH - For the first time since 2005, North Carolina defeated N.C. State at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday. The Tar Heels held the Wolfpack to just three second-half points to secure a 27-19 win. It was a complete team effort - Carolina played well in all three phases to get a victory - but the contributions from freshmen and sophomores jump off the page of the box score.
Carolina’s offense stagnated until redshirt sophomore Marquise Williams entered the game at quarterback on the third series. Williams then engineered a 74-yard drive - three complete passes, four Williams runs along with a 13-yard rush by freshman T.J. Logan - and capped it by hitting sophomore Quinshad Davis in the corner of the end zone.
On the Tar Heels’ next possession, freshman Khris Francis took the ball to the one-yard line before quarterback Bryn Renner snuck it into the end zone.
After N.C. State retook the lead at 16-14, freshman wideout Ryan Switzer tossed an option pass 59 yards to Davis to put the Tar Heels ahead for good. “Probably midget league,” Switzer said when asked for the last time he’d thrown a touchdown pass. “I threw it a little too far inside but Quinshad made me look good. I got real excited so it was a great moment.”
For his part, Davis said Switzer saved his best throw for the game. “Switz in practice could not throw the ball!” he said. “Could not throw the ball! But in the game, he put it on the money so that’s all that matters. I sold it pretty good and I was just hoping they would hold up long enough for him to get the ball off and they did so you saw a big play happening.”
Freshmen and sophomores were making big plays for the visitors all day. With the lead closed to two, Williams hit Bug Howard for 24 yards on 2nd and 13 at the State 38. Williams lofted the ball where only Howard could corral it on perhaps the game’s biggest single play. After the game, the quarterback compared the 6’4 Howard to the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson. “Throw the ball up to him. He’s going to make a play,” Williams said. “And that’s one thing I did: I let him make the play. I put it where he could make something happen.”
On the next play, Logan - henceforth known as Weapon X - scored his first collegiate touchdown. “It was an inside zone read and the line kind of doubled on the linebacker, so when they did that, I just cut it off and tried to get into the end zone.” It seemed like the Greensboro freshman was about to break out - he showed an ability to roll off would-be tacklers and extend plays on that drive. Afterward, he was excited to get that first score but looking toward the next one. “It’s a big deal to me, but now it’s time to move on. We’ve got to play some more football.”
N.C. State’s ensuing series was ended prematurely when another freshman, defensive back Brian Walker, recorded his first career interception. Williams - a high school teammate of Walker’s - said he’d always had faith that the young player would make an impact. “‘I believe, so you’ve got to believe,’” Williams told Walker. “We’re just passing it on to the young boys just believing and there’s going to come a time where we’re going to get it done.”
The Tar Heels got it done on Saturday, beating N.C. State in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006, in no small part due to their youth movement.
The young players have made believers out of their elder teammates, too. Senior defensive end Kareem Martin had a whale of a game Saturday, with eight tackles (three for loss), a sack and a forced fumble. Martin said that hearing from Fedora and watching their high school film, he’d had a feeling about this year’s freshman class even before they arrived. “It’s finally starting to come together for all those freshmen,” Martin said. “It’s something that we saw in them from the beginning.”
“These guys have a ton of talent,” senior quarterback Bryn Renner echoed. “These guys are going to be a great talented group for years to come.”
When he arrived in Chapel Hill, Larry Fedora promised smart, fast and physical football. He brought new systems on both offense and defense and has watched his young recruits mature into to players that can execute those schemes. “They’re getting more and more reps and that just means the future’s brighter,” Fedora said. “Every rep they get is a new experience for them. They feel more comfortable out there, and now they’re making plays. They’re not just out there, they’re making plays and so that’s a good thing for us.”
Saturday, freshmen or sophomores scored three of Carolina’s four touchdowns, had 130 rushing and 171 receiving yards, made 32 tackles and had an interception. Their outstanding play combined with the experienced leadership and steady play of the underclassmen added up to a Tar Heel victory over N.C. State. So yes, the future is bright. But with two straight wins in the riavlry, so is the present.