Tar Heels kick blues

'Canes next

North Carolina shocked Virginia last week by controlling clock

Acc Notebook


North Carolina's surprising 7-5 victory over Virginia on Saturday represented such a stunning turnaround from its previous game, even Tar Heels coach John Bunting had to pinch himself when he woke up Sunday morning.

"To be honest with you, I had to check to see that we still won that ballgame," Bunting said. "That was a long, hard-fought game for me, the staff and the players."

The win marked the first time North Carolina had held an opponent without a touchdown since 2001, a stat that is even more impressive when you consider that the Tar Heels' defense gave up the most points in school history two weeks prior in a 69-14 loss to Louisville.

"After the Louisville game, I felt like this whole defense's heart was broken," linebacker Larry Edwards said after the win. "But you can't dwell on those bad things. You dwell on the past, you can never look forward to the future."

The future looks a lot brighter now, and not just on defense. North Carolina got a major boost this past week from running back Ronnie McGill, who is finally healthy again after missing large chunks of the past two seasons with injuries. McGill, a junior, ran for 118 yards in the victory and helped the Tar Heels control the clock and give the defense a much-needed breather.

"After Louisville, we just tried not to get too down," McGill said. "We knew we'd have another game and that we couldn't let it get to us. We knew we had to get a win [against Virginia] to get over it."

Things don't get any easier for the Tar Heels (3-3, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) as they travel to face No. 6 Miami (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday, but the memory of North Carolina's last-second upset of the Hurricanes a year ago is still fresh for both teams.

McGill missed that game with an injury, but third-string running back Chad Scott filled in and had the game of his life, rushing for 175 yards in a 31-28 win. McGill wouldn't mind duplicating that feat.

"It was hard last year, personally, just watching, but the team played good and won, so I didn't feel too bad," McGill said. "I just really wanted to be out there."

So how do the Tar Heels do it two years in a row?

"We just have to stay composed," McGill said. "We can't let their athleticism destroy us. We can't let them dictate what we do."

Calling Philip Rivers

Things remain tense in Raleigh for Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato, especially after N.C. State lost to Wake Forest on Saturday, 27-19, to fall to 2-4 overall and 1-4 in the ACC. On Monday, despite saying repeatedly this season that the Wolfpack did not have a quarterback controversy, Amato announced that sophomore Marcus Stone will replace senior Jay Davis as the starter for Saturday's game against Southern Mississippi.

"There's something a little bit missing, and it's a shame that it's always pointed to the quarterback," Amato said. "We're just going to take a look at this."

Stone threw for a career-high 136 yards and two touchdowns against Wake Forest after replacing the struggling Davis.

Kiwanuka returns?

Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, a player many think will be a top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft, still hasn't fully recovered from a widely discussed cheap shot to the back of his knee delivered Oct. 8 by Virginia offensive lineman Brad Butler.

But Kiwanuka, who suffered a sprained right medial collateral ligament, said he's going to try to play tomorrow when the Eagles travel to face No. 3 Virginia Tech. He practiced for the first time since the injury this week, but has yet to receive full clearance from Boston College's medical staff.

"As long as I'm cleared by the doctors, saying I won't reinjure myself by going out and playing, then I'll go out and give whatever I have," Kiwanuka told the Boston Globe.

Despite anger expressed by many over the incident - Butler was suspended for Virginia's next game - Kiwanuka told the Globe he's put it behind him.

"I'm the type of player, if something happens during the game and you get hurt, there's no hard feelings," Kiwanuka said. "But knowing that the situation could've been avoided makes it a little worse. I pretty much got over that once I started going through the rehab process. I'm just trying to focus on getting back and being 100 percent for this game."

kevin.van.valkenburg @baltsun.com

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