Two weeks, two stunning last-second defeats, two entirely new ways UNC football found to lose.

After last week’s jaw-dropping heartbreaker against Virginia Tech in primetime, and given the down-and-out season they’ve had thus far, no one would fault the Tar Heels for coming out flat this week. But whatever Larry Fedora did last week in practice worked, as his team played with grit, fire, and energy, sticking it to a Syracuse squad that, more than halfway through the season, still is unsure of their identity.

Focusing their offense early around short, high-percentage passes to keep quarterback Nathan Elliott comfortable, Carolina dominated time of possession in the first half, converting nearly all of their third-down tries. As the time of possession and yardage mounted, Elliott began to stretch his arm and the field, connecting on shots downfield that he has seemed to miss all season.

Carolina also employed a healthy dose of misdirection runs, keeping the Syracuse defense on their heels, while the Heels own defense kept ’Cuse’s talented quarterback Eric Dungey in check all day.

Still, Carolina found themselves down 20–7 early, once again victims of leaving far too many points on the field. From Freeman Jones’s missed field goal to Carolina being stopped on fourth-and-one at the Syracuse twenty-one-yard line to Bo Corrales’s errant pass on a trick play that resulted in an interception, ending a Tar Heel drive deep in Syracuse territory, the theme of not turning chances into points that started against Virginia Tech continued in the Carrier Dome.

Still, the Heels continued to play a fast and tough brand of football that has apparently become their new identity, and after mounting a furious comeback highlighted by Dazz Newsome’s punt-return touchdown, Carolina led for the first time—24–20—as the third quarter wound down.

Then Syracuse suddenly benched their quarterback for an unproven freshman who left Carolina’s defense in tatters. Calmly commanding his offense through the final frame, Tommy DeVito was poised and willing to stretch Carolina’s defense down the field, eventually throwing a fifty-yard touchdown dime to tie the game at 27 with less than two minutes to play.

Then, after two overtimes, Carolina found themselves headed to their locker room, once again victims of a last-second defeat.

There was a lot to quarrel with after Saturday’s loss. Fedora’s trick plays (one of which—Corrales’s interception—stopped a drive that would’ve likely ended in points, and the second—Anthony Ratliff-Williams’s third-down toss pass late in the game that fell at the feet of a receiver who had nothing but grass behind him—cost the Heels a chance to at least run most of the clock out,), the missed field goals by Jones, the ten-yard punt that resulted in a Syracuse touchdown, and the inability to adjust to DeVito late in the game all represented a team that is sloppy and undisciplined.

Silver lining: The effort the effort the Tar Heels gave in spite of last week’s loss and this season being lost long ago speaks volumes to the character of the young men in and around this program.

The Score: UNC 37–Syracuse 40

The Hero(s): Dazz Newsome

The Highlight: This play, because everyone wants to do this to the refs

YouTube video

The Stat: 0—the number of interceptions thrown by Nathan Elliott, who played his best game of the season and took care of the ball like he hasn’t all year.

The Goat: Anthony Ratliff-Williams, who would have clinched the game if he put his WR toss-pass—with 2:17 left on the clock—anywhere but in the grass.

The Record: 1–5