Bo Schembechler, one of the most successful coaches in college football with 104 victories in the last 11 seasons at Michigan, continued one of the most bizarre jinxes in sport tonight.
For the 11th consecutive year, Schembechler's Wolverines failed to win the last game of their season, losing 17-15, here tonight in the Gator Bowl to seven-point underdog North Carolina.
Schembechler's record in games other than finales is 104-9-3. But in these dastardly season-enders, which have often been Michigan's key-game of the year, Schembechler is an almost unbelievable 0-10-1.
In other words, this coash who, until this year, has never had a Michigan team that did not finish in the Top 10, has lost more games on the last days of the season than he has in his other 116 Wolverine games combined. l
Again tonight, Michigan played like a team that was trying to tiptoe through a haunted house. You don't sneak to victory.
Carolina was thought to be the one Schembelcher foe to whom Michigan could not possible lose. The 8-3-1 Tar Heels, the fifth-ranked team in the ACC this year, were taken lightly all week by Michigan players who talked about how they might get back into the Top 10 if, as they said, "we can win big."
Tonight, with Amos Lawrence rushing for 118 years, and Matt Kupec completing 19 of 28 passes for 161 yeards and a touchdown, Carolina did not play like a designated victim for mighty Michigan.
"They're in the Big 10 and we are in the little ACC," said Kupec. "We showed 'em."
"We used a lot of man in motion, passes to the halfbacks. Anything for motion to creat choas."
"I don't think they had no respect for us," said Lawrence.
Nevertheless, this game was as much a case of Michigan's eerie bad luck and mismanagement as it was a case of Carolina hustle and brave play.
The Wolverines now can be USDA -- certified snakebitten. Their starting quarterback John Wangler, who had gained a spectacular 203 yards with his first eight passes -- and was only 55 yards short of the Michigan single-game yardage record -- tore knee ligaments with seven minutes still left in the first half.
Wangler's replacement, -- B. J. Dickey, completed 11 of 18 for 125 yards as Michigan had the most passing yardage of any game in its history -- 328 yards.
However, Dickey was also horrible at the worst times, mixing brilliance with wild throws.
Twice in the fourth quarter he was intercepted. And finally, with 1:28 left to play and Michigan facing a two-point conversion that might at least salvage some dignity with a tie. Dickey threw a one-hop pass that bounced before it reached wide-open receiver Anthony Carter.
Carter bedeviled Carolina all night, catching four passes for 141 yards, including touchdown. Nevertheless, when only three yards were needed on that final conversion, Dickey couldn't lob the ball correctly a few yards.
As a concluding irony, one that added to the sense of a Michigan hex Dickey and Carter had hooked up on a gorgeous 30-yard scoring bomb on the previous play to cut Carolina's lead to 17-15.
Whenever Michigan needed a bad break tonight, it was sure to get one.
Although Michigan had a whopping 480-to-330 yard edge in total offense, the Wolverines stopped themselves with four turnovers and eight penalties, including three costly flags for blatant unsportsmanlike conduct (two of them punches).
Michigan botched a vital kick as Bryan Virgil missed an extra-point kick after the first of Carter's two touchdown catches. It missed right by inches. But, if Michigan's final conversion try had been for a win, not a tie, would Carolina have been more nervous? Would the situation simply have felt different and been resolved differently?
Carolina deserved credit tonight for rallying from a 9-0 deficit, and forgetting that kicker Jeff Hayes missed field goals of 32, 42, and 53 yards in the first half.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Carolina's final winning points -- a 32-yard Hayes field goal with 7:31 to play -- were the result of Michigan handing the ball to Carolina four consecutive times inside the Wolverine 40.
Michigan began the fourth quarter with a progression of interception, interception, fumble in its first three possessions. In fact, those three turnovers required only six Michigan snaps.
Carolina received the ball on Michigan's 37, 22, 34 and 38 before finally managing three Hayes points on the fourth possession.
Exciting as this game was from beginning to the end, there was still considerable substantiation for the claim that this game, like many postseason affairs was a Losers' Bowl. Or, at least, a game between teams unversed in winning tough, close games.
Although the final yardage totals seem to believe it, Carolina was probably the harder hitting team on the field tonight. Michigan All-Big Ten defenders Mike Jolly (shaken up) and Mike Trgovac (knee) had to be helped off the field, while many other Wolverines had their bells rung.
Lawrence, rushing for 100 yards for the 17th time in his three 1,000-yard rushing seasons at UNC, was not intimidated by Michigan's defensive All-Americas -- Ron Simpkins and Curtis Greer.
Actually, it was Simpkins and Greer who were AWOL. If this game had a turning point, it was a 97-yard Carolina scoring drive early in the third quarter that put the Tar Heals ahead, 14-9. On that 16-play march, neither Simpkins nor Greer was involved in a single tackle.
"I never thought we could drive the ball 97 yards on Michigan," marveled Carolina Coach Dick Crum, a Schembechler protege who coached at Miami of Ohio after Schembelcher.
Just as remarkable as the 97-yard marathon drive was the 12-yard scoring play tat ended it as flanker Phil Ferris leaped between two Michigan defenders to grab the Kupec pass in the midst of perfect coverage.
Schembelcher refused to blame injuries, although Michigan led 9-0, when Wangler left the stadium on a stretcher.
"We were not flat," said Schembechler. "You just can't win when you turn the ball over four times in the fourth quarter."
Those four turnovers, like Virgil's missed extra point, like three unsportsmanlike penalties, like the final finger-tip incomplete conversion, like gaining 480 yards and scoring just 15 points, will add to the growing mythology that now surrounds Schembelcher's end-of-year disappointments.
Carolina, which unbeknowst to many has played in seven minor bowl games in the '70s, had much to be proud of tonight -- particularly Lawrence's legs and Kupec's arm.
But the 70,407 fans in the almost sold-out Gator Bowl tonight will leave scratching their heads over the most unexpected of all Michigan's final flops.
That, however, must be nothing compared to the feelings that well up in the tough Schembechler, the Michigan coach who has won nearly 90 percent of his games, yet is becoming associated more each season with the notion of inexplicable and jittery defeat.