For Clemson it started as a day to get ready for next week's showdown with Maryland and to build up quarterback Steve Fuller's statistics in a belated bid for the Heisman Trophy.
It ended with the Tigers gasping for survival and a junior linebacker named Bubba Brown being hailed as the hero for an interception that saved a brutal 13-9 win over North Carolina.
"They just came at us right off the ball all day," said Brown, who picked off quarterback Matt Kupec's pass on the Clemson 30 with less than a minute to go. "It took us a while to start playing wild. We were cautious in the beginning."
The 15th-ranked Tigers, now 5-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 8-1 overall, had good reason to expect the Tar Heels, 1-3 in the conference 3-6 in all games, to hand over the game, given Carolina's penchant for mistakes this season.
But Kupec, making his first start since suffering a head injury five weeks ago against Pittsburgh, running back Amos Lawrence and a fired-up defense seemingly oblivious to the 53,000 screaming Clemson fans, made it a long afternoon for Fuller and company.
"They weren't showing an eightman front, but they were moving into it," said Tiger Coach Charley Pell, hoarse from yelling. "We hadn't really prepared for it that much and it hurt us. Their talent came through for them today."
Much of Carolina's talent is in its defense, which returned eight starters from last year's ACC championship team that led the nation in defense.
They showed early that the many Tiger fans wearing bright orange "Fuller for Heisman" T-shirts were going to be disappointed.
Twice in the first quarter the Tigers marched to the UNC 25. Twice the Tar Heel defense held, forcing field goal attempts by Obed Ariri from 43 and 46 yards, one of which - the 46-yarder - he made.
But with Lawrence picking up 87 first-half yards on 19 carries, Carolina moved th ball with as much consistency as Clemson and a 42-yard Jeff Hayes field goal with 7-23 left in the half tied the game at 3-3.
"We thought all along we could run the ball on Clemson," said Kupec, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 133 yards despite being knocked down almost every time he touched the ball.
"We expected to play well. We weren't surprised that it was a close game."
Clemson's fans were. They grew still when Pell elected to have Ariri kick a 25-yard field goal with 1-57 left in the half after moving to the three.
But that was nothing compared to the silence after fullback Doug Paschal dove in from the one to cap a 14-play, 72-yard drive with 13:14 left in the game to give Carolina the lead, 9-6. Even after Jim Stockey blocked Hayes' extra point attempt, the crowd's mood remained grim.
"I really wasn't that worried." Fuller insisted. "There were still 13 minutes left. If there'd been three minutes left or something. I might have panicked. All I really wanted to do on the next series was get some first downs so we could punt them deep and let the defense maybe set up." Some of Fuller's blockers weren't so sure.
"Some of the linemen came by and told me that the time had come," said halfback Lester Bown, who rushed for 154 yards and eventually scored the winning touchdown. "They told me it was time to go wild."
Brown, Fuller, who finished seven for 14 for 130 yards, and wide receiver Jerry Butler (six catches, 124 yards) were just wild enough on the next series.
A 24-yard Fuller-to-Butler pass, and a 21-yard sweep by Brown set up first and goal at the eight for Clemson. But the Carolina defense wasn't finished, forcing a third and four. Then Fuller's pass to Brown sailed along.
But saftey David Singleton was called for pass interference, a Carolina Coach Dick Crus later called in business at the one. On the next play Brown slammed over and it was up to the defense.
"We knew this was a chance to see whether we had it or not," Bubba Brown said. "If you want to be a great team you have to do it when it isn't easy.
Carolina did not make it easy, Kupec completions to Jeff Grey and Paschal and a personal foul aginst the Tigers set up a first down at the Clemson 32 with 1:18 left and the crowd began to panic.
"I thought, now we're ready for Maryland. We passed our test," Brown said. "Now it (the ACC title) will all be on the line."