NC State coach Tom O’Brien is 3-0 against UNC coach Butch Davis in one of the state’s greatest rivalries, and he would like to make it four straight -- but not because the Atlantic Division title is on the line.
Getting to Charlotte?
That, O’Brien said, is merely a “bonus” to beating the Tar Heels.
“That's the carrot,” O’Brien said, “to win the game and get to the ACC Championship. The road to Charlotte goes through Chapel Hill; you have to win at Chapel Hill. Well, if you're at NC State and you're a part of this football program you have to win at Chapel Hill anyway. It's something that's part of the culture here and we accept that fact. Our kids have really risen to the occasion and played well any time we've played against North Carolina since I've been here.”
They haven’t played with so much on the line before, though.
NC State is wrapping up one of its most successful seasons since 2002, and is two wins away from representing the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C. It’s the first time since the 2003 season that the Wolfpack has won seven games in the regular season. With games still remaining against UNC and Maryland, the Wolfpack has a chance to become the program’s sixth team in the past 20 years to win more than four league games.
No win, though, is bigger than one against UNC.
“I can’t say it’s just a regular game,” NC State linebacker Nate Irving said. “It’s us versus them. We stay right in their backyard. You can throw the record out the window. When it’s us against them, it’s going to be a tough game. Each team is going to come out and give it 110 percent.”
With its loss to Virginia Tech last week, UNC is out of the Coastal Division race. The seniors on the Tar Heels’ roster would gladly take a win over NC State as a consolation prize.
“Speaking as a senior on the team, it’s something, I can’t deal with that,” said safety Deunta Williams. “I can’t leave college and not have beaten them at least once. … We’re just looking to change our fortune against these guys and go out there and do what we’ve got to do, execute our game plan.”
It’s the 100th meeting between the two schools, and the Tar Heels lead the overall series 63-30-6, including a 34-17-2 edge in Chapel Hill. NC State must win on Saturday to keep pace with Florida State and Maryland.
“There's not any more on the line than any time that we play North Carolina,” O’Brien said. “It's a game that's very, very special and very, very important to our school. It's important to our student body, it's important to our faculty and our alumni. There's no added significance one way or another. Now, the bonus is if we win we keep going, but we're still playing against North Carolina.”
A win this year, though, could add up to far more than just bragging rights.