Sunday, September 10, 2006

Ready For Some Football? Not in the Carolinas This Weekend

Ever since the Pittsburgh Steelers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February, football fans have waited for this weekend. NFL teams kicked off the regular season, and the second weekend of college football featured a 1 vs. 2 matchup between Ohio State and Texas. However, teams from one region did not appear to be prepared for the action. This weekend was one that football fans in the Carolinas would like to forget.

North Carolina dropped to 0-2 on Saturday with a 35-10 pasting by Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill. The Hokies did not have much of a passing game, but UNC quarterbacks Joe Dailey and Cam Sexton compensated by consistently completing passes to Virginia Tech defenders. The Hokies returned one interception for a touchdown. Another was brought back to the UNC 1, as was a blocked punt. Afterwards, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer admitted that his offense really wasn’t necessary to win the game, but he took them along from Blacksburg just in case.

While the Tar Heels were clear underdogs, their neighbors in Raleigh were not expected to fall to Akron. However, North Carolina State was on the short end of a 20-17 score, thanks to Dennis Kennedy’s one-yard touchdown run on the game’s final play. Akron players are known as the Zips, reminding embattled Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato that he soon may have to change zip codes. Despite Chuck the Chest’s numerous wins over Florida State, many fans are demanding that he be replaced. Considering the recent search for a new NCSU basketball coach, it may be necessary to make that call now. If the school begins looking for a new football coach immediately, it may have one in place by next September.

The only Division 1-A football team in the Carolinas to win this weekend was Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons edged in-state rival Duke 14-13 in a game that caused observers to remark, “It’s a shame someone had to win this one.” The Blue Devils led for most of the game but could not overcome numerous blunders, including a blocked 28-yard field goal attempt to end the game. Head coach Ted Roof attributed the loss to “being on a football field wearing Duke uniforms.” Wake did go to 2-0 on the season, but it was largely outplayed by the lowly Blue Devils and needed a touchdown with 1:28 remaining to claim the come-from-behind win. Therefore, while the Deacons did not actually lose, the game represented a moral defeat.

A blocked kick also figured prominently for an ACC member to the south. With high expectations, 18th-ranked Clemson journeyed to New England for a conference showdown with Boston College. The Tigers lost 34-33 due to a blocked extra point in the second overtime. It was the second consecutive year in which Clemson fell in overtime to their newest conference rival. In response, coach Tommy Bowden has contacted ACC commissioner John Swofford, requesting that overtime not be used for future Clemson-BC matchups. Instead, Bowden proposed that in the event of a tie after regulation, the winner should be the team that is more orange.

At least the Tigers kept the scoreboard operator busy, unlike their hated rivals in the Palmetto State. South Carolina scored the same number of points on Saturday as the other USC. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Southern Cal had a bye week. Georgia scored a decisive 18-0 SEC victory in Columbia. Bulldog fans were particularly delighted to shut out Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier, whose Florida teams were harder on Georgia than General Sherman. Remembering last week’s victory over Mississippi State, one South Carolina player remarked after Saturday’s defeat, “Those other Bulldogs were a lot nicer!”

Rounding out the Carolinas’ Division 1-A programs, East Carolina fell 17-12 to UAB in a Conference USA matchup. The Pirates are handicapped by the constant identity crisis they face. The most notable Greenville is in South Carolina, but ECU is in Greenville, North Carolina. Also, extensive research has revealed that East Carolina is not actually a state. Furthermore, this summer showed that Pirates are very hot at the multi-plex, but not in the sports world. And unlike East Carolina, at least the Pittsburgh Pirates can brighten up losses with highlight footage of Roberto Clemente.

A better result was expected on Sunday from the Carolina Panthers, the consensus pre-season choice to represent the NFC at the Super Bowl. However, the Atlanta Falcons earned a convincing 20-6 win at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers’ offense badly missed all-pro wide receiver Steve Smith, sidelined by a hamstring injury. Perhaps Carolina’s highly-touted defense could have used him even more, as Atlanta rushed for 252 yards. Falcons running back Warrick Dunn covered so much mileage, he took Kasey Kahne’s place in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. During the fourth quarter, coach John Fox resembled Redd Foxx, clutching his chest and screaming, “This is the big one, Elizabeth! I’m comin’ to join ya, honey!”

Perhaps next week will be better for football fans in the Carolinas. This weekend could not end soon enough. All over North and South Carolina, dejected fans quoted the ubiquitous Monday Night Football ads: “Is it Monday yet?”