Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
North Carolina kicker Casey Barth literally got swept up in the moment.
Upon kicking his team’s 21-yard game-winning field goal for a stunning 20-17 victory over Virginia Tech last Thursday night in hostile Lane Stadium, Barth was hoisted into the air by center Lowell Dyer and consumed by celebration.
On Friday, after having had some time to digest the magnitude of the win, Barth summed it up succinctly:
“I think it saved our season,” he said.
It very well might have.
After opening the season with three straight conference losses and feeling the pressure to stop a downward spiral, North Carolina (5-3, 1-3 ACC) did the seemingly impossible and marched into one of the nation’s most difficult places to win on a Thursday night and stunned the Hokies. Now the Tar Heels have increased their chances of finishing the season with a bowl game and a respectable record in Butch Davis’ third season.
“I think the guys needed the win -- skip the records and all that -- just on a personal level,” said safety Deunta Williams. “We put in so much hard work during the offseason, and for it not to manifest during the season, it was tough for guys to understand that. For us to go down there against a ranked opponent, a very good team, and just us against the world and no help from anyone at all but us, we come out with the win, it was more of a confidence builder, self-esteem builder, all of that good stuff. We really needed that.”
And Davis, Barth said, had a lot to do with giving the team the confidence it needed to actually pull it off.
“He has the stats, that last year we beat a lot of good, ranked teams, and obviously we have the athletes to do it,” Barth said. “He told us we definitely have the ability to beat them, we just have to put our best effort out there.”
They did, in all three phases of the game -- for all four quarters -- and that was the difference. Offensive coordinator John Shoop won the chess match against Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, and the return of several healthy players helped him do it. Williams said UNC’s defense, which was humbled two weeks ago in the second half of a nationally televised loss to Florida State, was playing for pride as much as anything else.
The plan, Williams said, is to keep it up, but it doesn’t get any easier, as UNC will host its rival, Duke, on Saturday in another key Coastal Division game. The Blue Devils have won their past three conference games, including two on the road, and control their own destiny heading into Chapel Hill.
North Carolina, though, knocked off a team that just weeks ago was still in the running for the national title. And the Tar Heels did it in Lane Stadium, where the Hokies entered the game with a 9-2 record on Thursday nights.
“It wasn’t just a fluke or anything like that, especially playing against Virginia Tech,” Williams said. “It would be different if you were playing against someone who was less talented, but overall I think it was a good team and -- it’s not the first time we’ve done that, but it was the first complete game that we’ve played in all three stages, besides the ECU game, that we all came together and won as a team.”
And when that happens, it’s easy to get carried away.
“It was awesome,” Barth said. “I’ve never really experienced anything like that. It was one of the best moments of my life.”