Yes, it’s a rivalry game. It’s not as important nationally as Alabama-Auburn or Ohio State-Michigan or Texas-Oklahoma, but in the North Carolina triangle it’s a big, big deal. And it looks and feels just like the big rivalry games you see on TV.
Proximity probably plays the biggest role. The two schools – both major state universities – are only 30 minutes apart. Imagine, picking up Blacksburg and placing on it Rt. 29 somewhere around Madison. You think we have mixed marriages (Tech and UVa) here in the Commonwealth? In North Carolina, houses divided over Wolfpack-Tar Heel loyalties are quite common. In fact, our hosts for the tailgate and the game reside in just such a home.
Wins and losses or national rankings don’t matter. Like the Virginia-Virginia Tech rivalry, all other goals aside, the season is a failure if you lose to your rival. UNC had defeated NCSU the last three years, and outside observers would have to call all three Tar Heel victories “upsets.” Needless to say, Wolfpack Nation was looking for a win.
So the day starts with a 9 a.m. departure from a picturesque Raleigh neighborhood. It’s an easy 15 minute drive over to Carter-Finley Stadium and the RBC Center. Thankfully, the tailgate menu started with Bojangles breakfast biscuits and coffee. Of course, it quickly moved on to beer, then whiskey. Hey, it was supposed to be sunny and 60. It wasn’t. How about low fifty’s, mostly cloudy and damn windy...Whiskey.
An interesting thing to note about N.C. State is that the adults and the kids are segregated. Mind you, the adults get after it…the parking lots open four hours before the game – in this case, at 8 a.m. – but the kids really put on a show. They are housed over in the student parking lots and their tailgates are “wide open.”
A few years ago (OK, almost 10), we made the mistake of strolling through said student throw-down wearing Carolina blue. Not a mistake to be made twice. Not something you would want to do after the game…especially if the Wolfpack were to lose.
Although the Heels did close it up to 24-17 with a crazy fullback option 50 yard TD pass, we headed to the exits due to exposure. It was cold and windy, and there was a bar with all the appropriate adult amenities as well as lots of TVs just a short drive from the stadium.
Warmer, we settled in for an entertaining fourth quarter. UNC ran back another interception for a touchdown. A good thing, since their offense was doing little. State’s Jamelle Eugene ran for his third TD -- the go-ahead 1-yarder with 1:41 left -- to give the Wolfpack (5-5, 3-3 ACC), the winning margin.
The Heels (3-7, 2-4) certainly made it interesting, but they couldn't answer Eugene's final plunge. They drove all the way to N.C. State's 7-yard line with 6.9 seconds left before coming up empty when T.J. Yates couldn't connect with Hakeem Nicks in the end zone on fourth down.
(Over in Chapel Hill the next morning, the locals were grousing about their quarterback…Now there’s a shock.)
Another entertaining version of a great rivalry.
(Photos TAH/TarDog Photos)