The goal posts at Kenan Memorial Stadium are still standing, which should tell you how the so-called "biggest game" in North Carolina football history went for the Tar Heels Saturday evening.
In fact, everything seems to be intact after Florida State's 33-7 victory, including the Seminoles' No. 1 ranking, quarterback Charlie Ward's Heisman Trophy chances and linebacker Derrick Brooks' quest to make America ask, "Marvin Who?"
Nobody rushed the field after this one, though Tar Heel fans did rush the exits as early as the third quarter. Florida State can cause those sort of stampedes, especially when it turns a three-point halftime lead into a mini-rout in less than eight minutes. North Carolina was there . . . and then it wasn't.
The Tar Heels shouldn't feel too bad. At least they forced Seminole Coach Bobby Bowden to keep Ward in the game during the fourth quarter. In Florida State's three previous victories, Ward was on the sidelines by then, helmet off, a cool, refreshing beverage in his hand.
This time he stayed in, which was good for a moral victory but not much else. Ward completed a career record-tying 27 of 41 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns. He led the Seminoles in rushing with 69 yards. He sidestepped Tar Heel would-be tacklers, what, a dozen times? Maybe more.
Yet, when it was over, Ward sat in a golf cart outside the Seminole locker room for a makeshift press conference and glumly said, "I wasn't hot, that was obvious. I wasn't clicking."
Is that so? Tell it to the high school recruits who huddled outside the Seminole dressing room, programs and pens poised for Ward to autograph. And these were Tar Heel recruits who were calling for Ward's signature.
Ward's modesty isn't unusual, just unnecessary. But he had a point Saturday night. Florida State's offense, which produced 489 yards, isn't what beat the Tar Heels. It was, said Ward, the Seminole defense.
"I was kind of skeptical," he said. "I don't doubt them anymore."
Neither does No. 13 North Carolina. Seventeen of Florida State's 33 points were the product of the Seminole defense. A fumble recovery led to a Florida State field goal. An interception later resulted in another field goal. A interception by Brooks, who replaced All-American Marvin Jones in the lineup, produced a 49-yard scoring return.
"We started hitting them," said Brooks, who now has three touchdowns this season, one more than Florida State opponents. "We just started pounding them."
Simple, but effective.
The Tar Heels (3-1) had 173 total yards in the first half, but just 106 in the second. They lost both of their starting offensive tackles to injury. They saw their starting quarterback, Jason Stanicek, pounded into the turf, enough times that he bruised his right shoulder and was pulled after the first series in the third quarter.
At the time, the score was 10-7. It was 27-10 by quarter's end.
Afterward, Bowden was asked if this was the best defense of his 18-season career at Florida State. Bowden knew better.
"It's got a chance to do it," he said. "How would they do it? Uh, 13-0. An 11-1 won't tell us nothing. We've done had some of them."
Bowden, no dummy, predicted that Florida State (4-0) would be tested. He even said that the Seminoles would have to come from behind to win.
Then again, everyone was making wild claims earlier in the week. To listen to North Carolina Coach Mack Brown on Thursday, you would have thought the Tar Heels didn't belong in the same area code as the Seminoles.
According to Mack, Florida State was possibly the greatest team of all time . . . Florida State should be playing on Sundays, not Saturdays. . . . Florida State was "sooooo" much better than North Carolina. About the only thing Mack didn't do was summon someone from Canton, Ohio, and have the Seminoles made honorary members of the NFL Hall of Fame.
Mack wasn't the only one caught up in the moment. The legendary Charlie (Choo Choo) Justice, whose career offensive totals remain a North Carolina record--44 years after his last run, deemed Saturday evening's matchup as the biggest game in Tar Heel history. Few argued with that assessment.
Almost everything went North Carolina's way early in the game. The Tar Heels won the toss. They forced Ward to throw his first interception of the season. They even took a 7-0 lead with 6:21 left in the first quarter, thanks to a diving touchdown catch by flanker Bucky Brooks of a pass from Jason Stanicek.
If Florida State looked a tiny bit confused, it's because it was. The Seminole first-string defense hadn't allowed a score in any of its three previous games.
In fact, it was the first time Florida State had trailed an opponent since Oct. 31, 1992.
Actually, it could have been worse. Brooks dropped what would have been a sure touchdown pass on North Carolina's first drive.
Meanwhile, the Seminole "Fast Break" offense struggled. There was Ward's interception and later, a fumble by Florida State wide receiver Tamarick Vanover.
It wasn't until 1:31 left in the first quarter that the Seminoles finally tied the score at 7-7. Ward hit freshman Warrick Dunn, who happens to be the quarterback's roommate, on a short swing pass. Dunn did the rest, juking two North Carolina defenders before sprinting into the end zone.
The Tar Heels didn't back down. They stopped Florida State on three plays and forced a punt.
It might not sound like much, but it was only the fourth time this season that the Seminole offense had to settle for three and out.
"I am very proud of our defense and the way it played throughout the night," Mack Brown said later. "That sounds a bit funny when you give up 33 points. . . . "
Not really. Not when Florida State is on the other side.