There is a lot that can be said about the 2018 University of North Carolina Tar Heels’ football team. You wouldn’t be off base to posit that this season was lost from the first quarter of the first week, that Carolina’s offense has been a predictable if unfocused mess all year, that any team that has two wide receivers as talented as Anthony Ratliff-Williams and Dazz Newsome and a three-headed beast of a running back committee shouldn’t be nearly as inept at sustaining drives as they are, that coaching decisions have cost the team on more than one Saturday, and that these Tar Heels still don’t know how to win a close game.
What you can’t say about them is that the Tar Heels, at any point this season, have quit. Week after week, and despite being arguably the worst team in the ACC, these Tar Heels have taken the field, playing with grit and fire that continually puts them in position to walk away with a W that seems, with each passing week, less and less destined.
They didn’t quit after the core of their team was suspended for off-field infractions. They didn’t quit despite rotating through quarterbacks, only to see their hopes at the position go down with injury after injury over much of the season’s first half. They didn’t quit after consecutive heartbreaking losses—losses that might have turned the tide of their season had they gone the other way.
They didn’t quit on Saturday, after going down 28–10 to a Georgia Tech team that features one of America’s most boring and effective offenses in their old-school triple-option attack.
True freshman Jace Ruder was inserted at quarterback after Nathan Elliott threw an uncharacteristic interception, his first in nearly two hundred attempts. The change ignited the Heels on both sides of the ball, as Ruder comfortably commanded the offense to the tune of a four-of-five passing line with eighty yards and a touchdown, adding another twenty-one yards on the ground before going out with what appeared to be an arm injury. Meanwhile, the Heels defense, most notably linebacker Cole Holcomb, stuffed Tech’s offense time and again, forcing several turnovers in the process.
As he has done a few times this season, Elliott left the bench he was relegated to, coming on in relief of the injured quarterback who had previously relieved him. And while his stat line was hardly impressive, finishing with 128 yards and three interceptions, he led the Heels to a late-game 28–28 tie, only to throw an interception to a Tech defensive lineman, all but icing the game in the late stages.
So while many argue that there is no such thing as a moral victory in sports, this Heels team has to be commended for the character they’ve shown in the face of a wholly pointless season.
The Score: UNC 28–Georgia Tech 38
The Hero: The schedule. Only three more games to suffer through.
The Highlight: Cole Holcomb’s stat line: 22 tackles, 12 of them solo, 3 forced fumbles
The Stat: Carolina is officially eliminated from bowl consideration
The Record: 1–7