CHAPEL HILL -- Magic Mack.
North Carolina drove 75 yards in the waning minutes, converting a fourth-and-17 along the way, and stunned Miami 28-25 Saturday night.
A week after a fourth-quarter comeback win over South Carolina, the Heels did it again. A touchdown, a two-point conversion and a missed field goal by Miami with nine seconds to play gave Carolina another miraculous win and another week of celebration.
Mack Brown, running on pure emotion, tried to tamp down expectations afterward while his players tried to get him to dance and the fans chanted about Clemson.
“We're kind of a for real work in progress,” Brown said. “We're not there yet by any means.”
You could’ve fooled 50,500 fans inside a stoked stadium on a hot summer night. Brown said it was the best atmosphere he’d ever seen in Kenan Stadium.
He’s now won as many games in his first two games back at UNC as he did in his first two years at Carolina. Combined.
UNC started fast, bolting to a 17-3 lead in front of the sold-out crowd. It was certainly one of the most electric atmospheres in recent Carolina history, though maybe not ever, and it seemed to carry the Heels to another level.
Miami was stunned by the early rally, but UNC soon ran out of energy. When the Hurricanes came roaring back to cut the lead to 20-19, it looked as if UNC was spent. But a blocked PAT by defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge saved the lead and maybe the game.
A lot of plays saved this game.
Miami, indeed, would take the lead with only 4:38 to play, but a wild sequence that included Brown sending the punt team onto the field with 2:55 to play appeared to seal Carolina’s fate.
But during a long review over a possible UNC fumble, Brown called an audible and had his offense take the field needing 17 yards for a first, 60 yards for a touchdown and with no timeouts.
And they did it.
Those things didn’t happen the past few years here. Brown’s ability to make his team believe it can win games like this is the main difference in a program going backward and one that suddenly looks as if it’s headed for even bigger wins.
But the biggest games are yet to come. And the first one comes Friday night in Winston-Salem.
Carolina at Wake Forest, the forgotten rivalry, will be reborn this week when the two early unbeatens play a non-conference game unlike anything we’ve seen among ACC schools.
The teams haven’t played since 2015 and have played only three times in the past 12 years. League expansion, the formation of divisions and changes in scheduling made it hard for the schools to continue a yearly rivalry that began in 1888. They would even play twice a year in the early days.
So while the game will not count in the conference standings, it comes with both schools 2-0, rekindling support from fans after lean years on the field and in the stands.
And it will just be a cool game between schools once only 30 miles apart.
This will be the biggest game of the early season for both, though there will be much bigger games down the road.
That’s when we’ll really see if Brown’s magic will stand the test of time.
The win over South Carolina shocked people. The win over Miami only shocked Miami.
UNC is ahead of most people’s expectations, but not Brown’s. His biggest achievement thus far has been convincing his own players they can win. The second has been convincing the fans.
They didn’t show up last week in Charlotte, but they packed the house Saturday night. The noise sounded like the old days, and now the fan base is energized. They might be surprised to learn that Wake Forest is probably better than South Carolina or Miami, though.
Up until now, it’s been fun and furious.
Now comes Wake Forest, Appalachian State and Clemson.
The fun part is over.
As the team ran off the field, students chanted “We want Clemson!”
Brown rolled his eyes.
“They don’t have to play Clemson,” he said. “We don’t want anything except a good night’s sleep.”