Installment #32: Football! Is! Back!
Yep, it’s that time again. The summer heat and humidity are beginning to give way to cool mornings and evenings. It is in fact Labor Day weekend, which means the unofficial start of fall. In concert with the start of fall, comes the start of football. And live football games, equipped with the roar of a crowd this year, makes me happy.
The 2021 college football season actually began last weekend with only four games on the Week 0 slate. I was thrilled to finally be able to listen to some football that counted as the NFL was wrapping up it’s final week of pre-season, but all of the games were for the most part one-sided affairs that featured mediocre and below teams. This weekend though, everybody plays from the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on down. There are over 150 Division I games over a span of four or five days which gives us sports fanatics something to watch everyday.
Yesterday and today, a lot of the North Carolina schools were in action. NC State, Coastal Carolina, and Appalachian State posted some blowout wins on Thursday. Yesterday, two games in particular held my focus. Both games ended up being complete surprises.
My North Carolina Tar Heels were ranked No. 10 in the country coming in to their opener against Virginia Tech. It was the school’s highest pre-season rating since 1997 and UNC, which is known as a basketball power house, was beginning to again be in the national conversation around football. If I had wagered on the game last night, I would have picked North Carolina to win hands down. Good thing I didn’t because the Hokies beat the Tar Heels in Blacksburg, VA 17-10, effectively quieting the UNC noise for now.
Defensively, the Hokies made Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell look much less than the dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate that many experts have pegged him to be. They sacked him six times and intercepted three of his passes. VA Tech QB Braxton Burmeister scored on a 4-yard touchdown run and then he hit tight end James Mitchell for an eleven-yard touchdown pass and the Hokies had a 14-0 lead at halftime.
Sam Howell and company tried to give the team some life in the second half. He became North Carolina’s career touchdown pass leader with 69 when wide receiver Josh Downs took a 37-yard screen pass in for a score, making it 17-7. The Heels added a field goal later and maintained a chance to win until the last minute. Howell was chased from the pocket while he desperately tried to find a teammate as defensive end Jordan Williams held him by an ankle. He whirled to get away, then threw the ball to VA Tech safety Chamarri Conner. When the play was reviewed and called an interception, excited students rushed the field at Lane Stadium to celebrate with the victorious team.
It was a disappointing loss for coach Mack Brown and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Coach Brown, who said after the game that his team was “overrated” with the high ranking and the way they played declared that the “shine was now off.” I personally as a fan, hope that the premature hype is now gone and they can concentrate on playing football. The Heels have games against Georgia State, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Duke coming up. Most if not all of these games should be wins before they take on Florida State, Miami, and Notre Dame in October. So they still have time to bounce back. But in college football, losing one game is critical when being considered to win your division or conference. Squandering opportunities to win only lessens a team's margin for error. But, we’ll see what happens.