Let me say the following before I write this post. First off Saturday night in Durham the team that deserved the win was Duke, not North Carolina. Second of all, if the UNC football team stayed in the game it was in great part thanks to their red shirt sophomore tail back, Giovani Bernard, who is now the leading rusher in the ACC and 19th nationally. And it was thanks to his great hustle that he turned a Erik Highsmith fumble into the go ahead touchdown for the Tar Heels late in the game. Having said that, could that play been the wrong thing to do?
I know that in the heat of the moment no one thinks about “stopping short” of scoring, but what if Bernard had done just that? Instead of picking the pigskin up and running it in, he had just dove on the ball, stopping before the end zone. Bernard, according to the ESPN Play by Play, recovered the ball at the Blue Devils’ four yard line and went in for the score with 3 minutes and 12 seconds to go in the game. Yes, in my way Carolina still would have had to score, but down by three points, a field goal would have been a gimme for Casey Barth to tie the game, and with someone like Bernard running (143 on 24 carries with a TD) and the momentum all in their favor, scoring could also have been very possible.
While not much time would have been used up, since Duke had its time outs to stop the clock, coach Cutcliffe and his team would then had to go down the field and score without them. And for what little it might have been, the Blue Devils would have had less than the 3+ minutes they did. And they would have done it against a Carolina defense who would have been just a bit more rested. Would have UNC been able to punch it in? Could that home team still have found a way to score?
Both of those questions, and many more, will never be answered, and that might just be best for all, since the game is over and done. Again, as I said up top, the team that won was the one that deserved to win, but I thought this was something that could have truly have changed the outcome of the game. Of course the counter to that is that there were many other things that could have changed the way things went, but this is the one that stuck in my mind the most as I re-watched the game a couple of times.
In the end, without any “what if’s”, Duke is bowl eligible, North Carolina is 5 and 3 and needs to gear up for another in-state rival, N.C. State, which comes into the friendly confine of Kenan Stadium this weekend. And one thing is pretty sure, if the Tar Heels want to win this one they will have to rely once again on Giovani Bernard and his amazing talents.
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