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Off the cuff: It's a real shame that Brandon Tate, who was leading the ACC in all-purpose yards, ended not only his season but his career with the knee injury. He was on target to win post-season awards. In fact, the sports information office was poised to start a new campaign to push for Tate for various awards. There was even talk about Heisman but it would have taken Carolina running the table for him to be considered. It is truly a game of inches. That punt that he returned was almost blocked.

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Heels 29, Fighting Irish 24
Carolina escapes Notre Dame, inept officials

In a game that looked all the world to be like the end of the Soviet Union's unfair victory over the U.S. basketball team in the 1972 Olympics, the officials finally ran out of ways to extend the game and the North Carolina Tar Heels escaped with a 29-24 victory over Notre Dame.

The Tar Heels, who had apparently wrapped up the win with a pass reception by Brooks Foster for a first down with less than two minutes to go, nonetheless had to wait several agonizing minutes before officials ruled that Foster dropped the pass. TV reviews clearly showed otherwise.

Notre Dame got the ball back with 1:47 at their own 18 but moved the ball as Carolina rushed only three linemen, giving QB Jimmy Clausen plenty of time to find receivers. The Irish, who benefited by a missed holding penalty and a missed offensive pass interference penalty, got it down to the Carolina 30 with time running out.

On fourth and 13 from the UNC 33, Claussen found Michael Floyd over the middle at the 7-yard-line but time seemed to run out as the receiver lost the ball. Trimaine Goddard recovered the fumble but officials ruled that the pass was complete, the receiver was down and that there was still time on the clock. Claussen tried to spike the ball as officials set the ball.

Confusion ensued. Was there time left? If so, did Carolina have too many people on the field? Was it really a fumble. Again, an official review took entirely too long and both teams anxiously waited - this after UNC coach Butch Davis had already run across the field, thinking the game was over.

Finally, after three officials huddled with headsets and wrote furiously on notepads, the official announcement came that there was indeed a fumble and that Carolina had the ball with two seconds left. Par for the course, the clock was reset to three seconds and UNC QB Cam Sexton took a knee and the game was finally over.

The poor officiating job marred an excellent game that was well played by both teams.

Trailing 24-22, Carolina took its first lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Heels had gotten the ball after lineman Aleric Mullins stripped Claussen of the ball and gave Carolina the ball at the Notre Dame 42.

A minute later, Shaun Draughn rushed 35 yards for what appeared to be a touchdown but a controversial holding call on Brooks Foster moved the ball back.

Draughn ripped off 10 yards and six yards after that but it came down to third and two play from the 4-yard line. Sexton rolled right and leaped into the end zone. After the PAT, UNC led 29-24, setting up the end-of-game antics.

Trailing 17-9 at the half, Quan Sturdivant intercepted a Claussen pass on the first play of the third quarter and dashed 32 yards for a touchdown, drawing the Heels to within a point at 17-16.

Notre Dame went on an 11-play, 72-yard drive - aided by a rushing the punter call on UNC's Richie Rich - that ended with a two-yard plunge by James Aldridge, making it 24-16.

Carolina came right back on a strong drive, highlighted by a big third-down pass play from Sexton to Richard Quinn, a senior tight end, that got the Heels down to the 15-yard line.

Ryan Houston ran three times from there and apparently scored on a six-yard bust up the middle. After another review that went too long, the officials ruled he was down at the 1-yard line. However, on the next play Houston rolled into the end zone. A 2-point conversion pass failed and the Heels trailed 24-22.

That's when Mullins ripped the ball from Claussen's hand and set up Sexton's go-ahead run.

Notre Dame scored on its first drive of the day, one play after UNC's Goddard dropped an interception. Notre Dame's Claussen threw a 20-yard TD to Golden Tate to cap the 82-yard drive less than five minutes into the game.

Carolina drove to the Notre Dame 20 on the strength on a pass from Cam Sexton to Hakeem Nicks and a face mask penalty on the play. Unfortunately for the Heels, the drive stalled after a holding call on Aaron Stahl. However, Casey Barth converted a 41-yard field goal late in the first quarter to draw UNC to 7-3.

In the second quarter, Notre Dame came back with a 42-yard field goal of its own to make it 10-3.

Barth drilled a 34-yard field goal to pull the Heels to 10-6. But with less than two minutes to go in the half, Claussen threw 47 yards to Tate setting up a short TD pass to give the Irish a 17-6 lead.

With time running out in the half, Sexton connected with Nicks on three straight passes to set up a 42-yard field goal by Barth with 13 seconds left in the half. Notre Dame fumbled the ensuring kickoff but Barth's 53-yard field goal fell short.

Ultimately the Heels did not fall short and moved to 5-1 while Notre Dame, the country's most historic program, fell to 4-2. This marked only the second victory over the Irish in the 18-game history between the two teams - the other victory coming in 1960 at Kenan Stadium by a 12-7 score. UNC's Brandon Tate injured a knee in the first quarter and did not return.


Season Preview: Carolina almost surely will improve
Look for Heels to have a winning record in Davis' 2nd year

Heel Prints reviewed each UNC game
As a student sports editor years ago, prior to the season, Clifton Barnes predicted a national championship for the Tar Heels and indeed they won. In fact he wrote his lede paragraph for the national championship game almost a year early. He regrets that he didn't keep a journal after each game. While he didn't predict a championship this season, he did have those same feelings. He kept a journal after each game of the 2007-2008 season and you can reach them here. He recently completed writing about UNC's baseball season and will write an analysis after each UNC football game.

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