Photo: Chris White
It was a pretty wild weekend in college football and I was apart of it.
On a toasty Saturday afternoon in late September, between the pines at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, the ACC opener for the Heels and Panthers had all the makings for a classic. I overheard a man behind me say this game was “make or break” for Carolina’s season. It just had that “big game” feel.
Kenan Stadium has rarely been at full capacity for a game in my lifetime – although the Duke game last season came very close. However, there was a sizeable crowd on hand Saturday that brought the noise. Unfortunately, the Heels didn’t respond right away. Both the offense and defense looked a bit flat out of the gate, allowing Pitt to take an early lead. But the Panthers’ lead never felt insurmountable. In fact, Pitt let Carolina hang around the entire game, with the margin of deficit for the Heels never exceeding 15 points.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter. Carolina was down and several fans thought the inevitable – a loss – was going to happen. Some fans even left Kenan. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout the years, it’s don’t leave a game early if it’s relatively close. With about three-and-a-half minutes left in the game and down six, Heels quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, had the task of leading his offense to try and score. Trubisky was already having a heck of a day – finishing with career highs of 453 yards and five touchdowns along with zero interceptions – so, yet again, it felt like something magical was bound to happen. The offense marched down the field on a monster, 17-play drive that included three fourth down conversions to wide receivers, Ryan Switzer – who had himself a day as well, with an ACC record-tying 16 receptions for 208 yards – and Austin Proehl, to keep the drive alive. The rest? Well, just watch…
I’ve been to many a football game not only at Kenan Stadium, but several other venues as well. I have to say this game had, quite possibly, the most exciting finish of them all. There was pure, unadultered joy in the stands as the sun set on Chapel Hill Saturday evening. When I got home Saturday night, my voice completely shot, I tried to think of a creative name to remember this game by. Then it came to me: “Thrilla in the Hilla” – and it was worth it. Totally worth it.