North Carolina settled for a 13-13 tie against Clemson today and moved closer to the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship.
Under the circumstances, Tom Biddle's 30-yard field goal that lifted North Carolina into the deadlock with 58 seconds to play should have made the Tar Heels ecstatic.
Before North Carolina drove into field-goal position with a third-string quarterback. Clemson aborted a potential clinching touchdown with a botched handoff at the Carolina 18. It ruined an otherwise fine day for Clemson quarterback Steve Fuller.
Instead, the Tar Heels were disappointed. When told that Clemson coach Charlie Pell hinted the Tar Heels were thinking field goal all the way, coach Bill Dooley launched a verbal offensive.
"We weren't playing for the field goal. We were going for the win," Dooley insisted. "(Kicking the field goal on fourth down) was due to the situation with the conference. Yes, in another situation, we would have gone for the touchdown on fourth down. I play to win; I don't play to tie.
"We were probably a lot more disappointed than they were. Our locker room was like a morgue."
The ACC championship situation is this: Carolina is 3-0-1, with games remaining against Virginia and Duke. Clemson finished conference play at 4-1-1. Carolina needs a win and a tie to clinch its first ACC title since 1972.
Scouts from seven bowls were among the record crowd of 50,500 at Kenan Stadium. Neither team improved its postseason credentials with the tie. Clemson, 7-1-1 overall, can make a name for itself against Notre Dame next week.
But the Tigers have only themselves to blame today.
Punter Dave Sims fumbled a perfect snap at his five-yard line to set up the first of Biddle's two field goals.
Nigerian placekicker Obed Ariri missed the first conversion kick of his career (he was 17 of 17) when a successful boot would have given the Tigers a 14-10 lead over a team whose remaining quarterbacks had limited college experience.
Then Fuller, with six minutes to play and again moving his team well against the nation's second-best defense against scoring, bobbled the snap from center Jeff Bostic. Tailback Lester Brown never touched the ball on the attempted handoff.
"I think the quarterback was holding it too tightly," Brown said.
"I came up with the snap from center and I bobbled the ball," explained Fuller. "I think it brushed the fullback, who was leading the play into the hole. Then Lester kicked it."
Reserve defensive end Stan Lancaster recovered the ball at the North Carolina 18.
At that point, third-strong quarterback Clyde Christensen replaced second-string quarterback P.J. Gay, who had replaced starter Matt Kupec in the third quarter. Kupec's left shoulder was injury and he said the collarbone may be broken.
Christensen said he was dismayed when Dooley put Gay in ahead of him.
"I've been so discouraged the past few weeks. It hurt me a lot when they put P.J. in," Christensen said. "When I went in, I prayed to the Lord because I was in no frame of mind to drive them downfield."
Christensen escaped pressure and completed a 15-yard pass to tight end Brook Williams at the Carolina 37 to keep the drive alive. He completed an 11-yarder to wingback Bill Mabry to set up fourth and one at his 46.
Clemson's defense had been playing the Tar Heels to go outside and was rushing Christensen aggressively. So Dooley called a misdirection sweep for tailback Amos Lawrence. He cut back inside for 11 yards.
The next call was a keep outside for Christensen, a mere setup for Dooley's next call - a burst up the middle by fullback Bob Loomis for 24 yards. Now it was first down at Clemson's 18. Carolina called two running plays and, then, on third down, linebacker Bubba Brown deflected Christensen's rollout pass that was intended for split end Walker Lee at the goal line.