CHAPEL HILL – Gone are the days when North Carolina fans would reach mid-October only to be excited by the upcoming basketball season.
Well, at least for this year.
While North Carolina can’t play for a conference championship or in a bowl game, it still has games like Saturday, when the Tar Heels thoroughly beat perennial ACC powerhouse Virginia Tech.
Those games mean something. They are games that can make statements for years to come.
“It’s a great start to this new era of football. It’s one of the greatest wins of my lifetime,” offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper said. “Hopefully, we can just continue on and this will just be a great start to a tradition.”
Virginia Tech (3-3, 1-1 ACC), which has played for five of the past seven championship and won three in that span, will never be a team to take lightly, even if this might be considered a down year for the Hokies.
So beating Virginia Tech isn’t a great achievement, but beating them Hokies the way the Tar Heels did speaks volumes.
The Hokies have been propelled by their defense for nearly two decades. North Carolina (3-3, 1-1) ran for 339 yards, the third-most against Virginia Tech in its history.
“That doesn’t happen against Virginia Tech very much,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
Virginia Tech also is considered to be one of the better special teams units in the past 20 years. The Tar Heels returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Hokies, the first time since 1993.
Now, the Tar Heels expect to make big plays on special teams, coach Larry Fedora said.
“When we come out, we try to be the most physical team,” senior linebacker Kevin Reddick said. “... That’s what our plan is.”
Reddick said that a victory like Saturday’s gives North Carolina the belief that it can beat any other team in the country.
“It will build some confidence for our team just to show what we can do against a good team like (Virginia Tech),” Reddick said. “They’re a good team.”
Reddick, along with the rest of the seniors, won’t be able to play for a collegiate championship because of previous NCAA violations.
Games like Saturday become their championship games.
Next week, North Carolina travels to Miami, and two weeks later, the Tar Heels will play host to N.C. State, which knocked off former No. 3 Florida State.
Those are games in which North Carolina can make a bold statement.
“It’s a shame we can’t go to a bowl game or play for a championship,” linebacker Kevin Reddick said. “But like I told some of the guys at the beginning of the season: Why not set the standard now about how teams are going to feel about you next year?
“... Guys will know, respect Carolina next year.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org