IF YOU DIDN'T GO to the game or watch it live or watch it on the Butch Davis show, you need to see "The Play."
[Go to YouTube.com and search for "Miami UNC football recap" and watch, starting at about 3:00.]
At 9:58 left in the fourth quarter, Miami, which had been down by as many as 16 points was now behind by six points and had the ball at the UNC thirty-two yard line, driving toward a go-ahead score. It was second down with nine yards to go when the Miami quarterback Jacory Harris dropped back to throw. As he released the ball, he was grabbed by UNC defensive end Aleric Mullins, causing the ball to wobble toward its intended target.
Harris had already thrown three interceptions, one of which was simply stolen by the UNC safety Da'Norris Searcy. The other two, both intercepted by cornerback Kendric Burney, were on underthrown balls due to contact at the ball's release.
At 9:53, Miami's third-string tight end, a former power forward for its basketball team, Jimmy Graham, had gotten behind both UNC linebacker Kevin Reddick and cornerback Burney. As the ball fluttered in, Reddick lept to intercept the ball but mistimed his jump. Burney, all five-foot-nine-inch of him, did not. Burney took the ball from high out of the air, leaving the six-foot-eight-inch Graham to grasp at him as Reddick blocked him. After a spin, Burney took off from the 10-yard line, heading up field. Graham was the first Miami player to attempt to tackle Burney.
At 9:47, at the 25-yard line, a second Miami player dives to tackle Burney but misses even as the 300-pound Marvin Austin, sprinting up field, took out the third and fourth Miami would-be tacklers with one massive block. At the 35- yard line, a fifth Miami player dives and misses. At the 45-yard line, a sixth Miami player also whiffs at tackling Burney. Ahead are two Miami players, the seventh and eighth, and one UNC blocker, Robert Quinn. Quinn didn't block either. He blocked the ninth player to show up
Meanwhile at the 50-line, Burney dodged one as the other, a big offensive lineman, grasped him by both hips and swung him around, changing his direction by almost 180 degrees.
At 9:41 Burney was at the Miami 45-yard line heading toward the near sideline when, as he appeared to be moving the ball from one hand to the other, it hit his thigh. As the ball bobbled in his hands, it appears Burney directed to a UNC player just in front of him.
[In a truth is stranger than fiction moment, earlier in the game, after one of Burney's other two interceptions, Melvin Williams, Burney's roommate and fellow defensive back, had said to Burney something like, "Why didn't you lateral the ball to me?"]
At this moment the play appeared to stop, as the same Melvin Williams seemed taken aback by the presence of a football in his hands. A potential UNC blocker in front of Williams, linebacker Bruce Carter, also seemed to relax. Then quickly, as both of them realize the play wasn't over, Carter blocks and Williams ducks and heads up field.
QB Jacory Harris, the tenth Miami player to have chance to tackle one of the two UNC ball carriers, was getting up after having been knocked down. He is blocked again.
At 9:35, as Williams crossed the 30-yard line, it appears no one can catch him. Aleric Mullins, the same player who altered the pass by Harris, looking back for Miami players, sees none close by, turns and celebrates. Williams, perhaps seeing Mullins' celebration, jogged toward the end zone.
Meanwhile, at 9:33, the eleventh and final Miami player, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, sprints into view. Hankerson, who had been at the opposite side of the field at the other goal line when the interception occurred, flew at an oblivious Williams, stripping the ball as Williams reached the goal line, causing an apparent fumble, which Williams recovered at 9:28.
Ruling on the field: Touchdown Carolina! "The Play" had taken 30 full seconds, one of the longest football plays you will ever see.
Time out for an official review. Two elements were reviewed: the question of an illegal forward lateral and whether there was a fumble at the goal line. The "lateral" was ruled a fumble, and the strip, it was ruled, occurred just after the ball broke the plane of the goal line. Ruling on the field confirmed: Touchdown Carolina!
Gary D. Gaddy has watched "The Play" more times than he can count.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday November 20, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy