A win is a win.

It’s a phrase all too often used by sports fans, pundits, and coaches alike. No matter the score, the play, or—in the case of the Tar Heels—the matchup, a win is a win. Sure, beating up on Western Carolina, an FCS team, could be considered punching down. Sure, Carolina should have gone into Kenan Memorial Stadium and done exactly what they did on Saturday. Sure, despite Carolina’s miserable season and their then-record of 1–8, nobody picked Western to actually leave Chapel Hill with a victory.

But a win is a win and, for the Tar Heels and their gathered fans, it felt great.

It’s been fifty-six days since Carolina’s last victory, a 38–35 home win against ACC Coastal division champions Pitt. In those intervening days, Carolina lost in seemingly every imaginable fashion. Blown out by Miami, beat in the waning seconds by Virginia Tech and Syracuse, out-schemed by Virginia, outmuscled by Georgia Tech, outshot by Duke.

While losing most of those games by ten points or less, it appeared at times that UNC simply forgot how to win. They played hard every week, executing often, misstepping just as much, only to fall just short.

Saturday, however, found the Heels putting together their first complete game of the season. Racking up nearly seven hundred yards of offense, Carolina moved the ball with ease, only hiccuping on three first-half turnovers. They found themselves headed to the locker room with a commanding halftime lead courtesy of a batted Hail Mary that fell fortuitously to the hands of tight end Jake Bargas.

Defensively, Carolina looked shaky, as they allowed Western’s video-game-like quarterback Tyrie Adams too much time and space to scramble and improvise. The Catamounts took their shots early and got on the scoreboard first, but Carolina adjusted and found a way to keep the athletic Adams somewhat in check. Still, he finished with nearly 400 yards of offense (290 passing, 104 rushing) and two touchdowns.

I’ve lauded this team for their resolve throughout this lost season, and this week was no different. Carolina played high-energy, inspired, if all-too-often sloppy football once again, likely knowing that they could have simply come into the game and outplayed their FCS opponent on individual talent alone.

But a win is a win, and for a team and a fanbase so desperately starved for one, this win felt as good as any.

The Score: UNC 49–Western Carolina 26

The Hero: True-freshman running back Javonte Williams, who ran for 97 yards and two touchdowns

The Goat: The defense, for allowing an FCS quarterback to pile up almost four hundred yards of offense

The Highlight: Jake Bargas’s Hail Mary haul

YouTube video

The Stat: Carolina won.

The Record: 2–8