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November 6, 2010TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - It was only natural that Casey Barth visibly breathed a sigh of relief.
He could certainly feel the pain of Dustin Hopkins, Florida State's kicker, but at that moment, he didn't care.
All the North Carolina kicker could think about was how Hopkins' 39-yard attempt had just sailed wide right with two seconds to go, making Barth's 26-yard field goal 53 seconds earlier the game-winning kick in UNC's 37-35 upset of the No. 24 Seminoles.
"I felt terrible for him," Barth said. "But I was so excited we won. It was just awesome."
It was the first-ever win for Carolina (6-3, 3-2 in the ACC) against the Seminoles (6-3, 4-2) in Doak Campbell Stadium.
The end-of-game theatrics stole the show from dueling quarterbacks T.J Yates and Christian Ponder.
While FSU's erstwhile Heisman candidate was 24 for 34 for 264 yards and three touchdowns, Yates was even better, completing 24 of 35 balls for a school-record 439 yards and three touchdowns.
The senior became the first player in Carolina history to have multiple 400-yard passing games in his career.
Yates' favorite target was Dwight Jones, who hauled in eight passes for 233 yards and a score. Jones' ability as a deep threat - he scored a 67-yard touchdown in the first quarter - opened up everything else for the Tar Heels.
"Once we started getting them to back up in coverage, we could just pick them apart," Yates said.
Carolina's ability to move the ball was a crucial oasis of calm in what became a wild final six minutes.
Carolina led 34-28 - having overcome a 28-21 halftime deficit - when long snapper Mark House sent a snap over the head of punter C.J. Feagles. Feagles, chasing the ball toward the end zone, kicked it out of bounds, drawing a penalty for illegal touching (because the ball had not yet crossed the goal line).
The result of the odd scenario was that Florida State got the ball at the Carolina 1-yard line, and fullback Lonnie Pryor scored to put the Seminoles up by a point with 5:49 to go.
The Tar Heels answered by going 72 yards in 12 plays to set up Barth's field goal and leave FSU with almost no time to work with on offense. Davis said it was the single best drive he's seen from his offense in his tenure at UNC.
"I thought we might get it in the end zone," Davis said.
Instead, the Heels made things dramatic by letting FSU return man Greg Reid weave down to the UNC 45-yard line on the kickoff before Ponder moved the ball another 23 yards in the air to set up the Hopkins attempt.
The way the Tar Heels rushed onto the field - only to retreat when they realized the clock hadn't yet expired - it would seem as if they felt like they dodged a bullet when Hopkins missed.
But UNC safety Deunta Williams said he was sure Carolina was about to buck its historical trend of losing at FSU, just like the team did at Virginia earlier this season.
"I knew he was going to miss it," Williams said. "We just believed it wasn't going to go in."
It made sense since Williams and the rest of the UNC defense hadn't seen the Seminoles do much scoring after halftime. FSU's only touchdown of the second half came after the UNC punt-team miscue.
Carolina allowed FSU only 123 yards of offense after halftime, despite having a secondary that was so banged up - it was still missing injured cornerbacks Mywan Jackson and Tre Boston - facing an offense forcing them into nickel and dime packages regularly.
"I've never been around anything like it," Williams said. "It's an attitude. It has nothing to do with who's on the field. It's addictive. If you step on that field, that attitude, you've got it."
Davis said the game was probably a good microcosm for the season, with all the drama, adversity and ups-and-downs.
In a classic scenario for this year's Tar Heels, the good news - a maturing defensive line, the best UNC drive Davis has seen, and a historic win - was tempered with the bad, including the loss of leading rusher Johnny White, who broke his clavicle and will miss the rest of the season.
"It was another addition to a crazy season," Yates said. "We wanted to make this night memorable. We did a good job of that."