On Sunday morning North Carolina coach John Bunting realized that he had given his players the day off without warning them to steer clear of trouble during their Halloween celebrations later that night. Bunting need not have worried, because the Tar Heels were already partied out after pulling off the ultimate trick against Miami the night before: a 31-28 upset of the fourth-ranked, previously unbeaten Hurricanes in Chapel Hill on freshman placekicker Connor Barth's last-second 42-yard field goal.
In addition to ruining Miami's national championship hopes, the Tar Heels, who had never beaten an opponent ranked in the Top 5, also bolstered their coach's chances of keeping his job. North Carolina had lost 20 of its last 26 games before Saturday, and the firing of Florida coach Ron Zook last week only increased the heat on Bunting. Many Tar Heels fans were afraid the new opening at Florida would hurt their chances of luring former Duke and Gators coach Steve Spurrier to North Carolina as Bunting's replacement and were calling for Bunting's immediate dismissal.
Spurrier himself could not have engineered a more impressive performance against Miami, or a more unlikely one. North Carolina was ranked 116th of the 117 Division I-A teams in total defense (503.9 yards per game), yet the Tar Heels stuffed the Hurricanes, holding them to 77 yards on the ground. North Carolina's top two running backs were injured, but third-string back Chad Scott overcame an injured hip and carried 25 times for 175 yards and two touchdowns. "Chad was huge," says Bunting. "He showed a toughness that, frankly, we hadn't seen from him before."
The Tar Heels' offensive line not only blew open big holes for Scott but also gave quarterback Darian Durant time to complete 21 of 29 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. "Our offensive line is the strength of our team, and we saw some things on film that made us believe we could run the ball on Miami," says Bunting, whose team finished with 545 yards of total offense.
The Tar Heels (4-4, 3-2 in the ACC) have a realistic chance of getting the two additional victories they need to become bowl eligible; their final three games are at home against Virginia Tech on Saturday, and at Wake Forest and Duke. But even getting to a bowl game for the first time in three years probably wouldn't be met with as much euphoria in Chapel Hill as the victory over Miami was. After Barth's game-winning kick fans stormed the field and tore down the goalposts. Barth said he thought he might have a concussion from getting so many congratulatory slaps on his helmet.
The scene was so chaotic that Bunting had to give up on his efforts to find Miami coach Larry Coker for a postgame handshake. "This win probably ranks up there with our Florida State win [in 2001] and [my] winning the Super Bowl [in 2000 while an assistant with the Rams]," said Bunting on Sunday. "But you don't have much time to think about it or celebrate. I was in here first thing this morning looking at film, and we've already turned our attention to Virginia Tech next week."