North Carolina nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages Saturday night, falling six yards short of victory in its 30-24 loss to LSU at the Georgia Dome at the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff.
While the pregame talk was dominated by talk of the 13 players UNC held out of the game due to the ongoing NCAA and school investigations into the program, the postgame talk is now dominated by the "woulda-coulda" variety more familiar to sports fans who just witnessed a heart-stopping football game.
Down 30-10 with 11 minutes to play, UNC saw on-and-off quarterback T.J. Yates suddenly turn into Joe Montana. Yates ended up throwing for three touchdowns, zero interceptions and 412 yards in the game, with 221 of them going to Jheranie Boyd.
Boyd's 97-yard touchdown catch sparked the comeback, and then UNC scored again on a 14-yard pass with 2:32 to go to cut the margin to 30-24.
The Tar Heels then converted an onside kick, but seemed to have lost when LSU held them on downs on that series. But then UNC's defense caused a fumble, allowing Yates one last chance to march the Tar Heels down the field.
He got them to the 10, then tried to throw three straight times to senior tight end Zack Pianalto.
Pianalto caught the first for a four-yard gain. Then he got his hands on the last two in the end zone -- and dropped them both. In both cases, the coverage was tight, and on the final play, some UNC folks were screaming for interference, but Pianalto's postgame explanation was simple and stark.
"I dropped the first one," he said, "and then I dropped the next one."
Had Pianalto scored, a successful extra point would have given UNC a 31-30 win. Instead, the Tar Heels had a superb second half (outscoring LSU 14-0) and still fell short, although for awhile, anyway, they gave their fans a lot to think about besides an NCAA investigation.