Oct. 31, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina coach John Bunting never lost faith in his players, unabashedly supporting them even while their mistakes and poor play led to more losses.

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Finally, they rewarded him with the type of effort that just might save his job.

The Tar Heels beat a top-five opponent for the first time, outgaining Miami by 130 yards and dominating time of possession. Surprisingly, they did it without the benefit of a turnover or a sack, a solid 31-28 victory almost no one could have seen coming.

"I think it's a statement about how hard this team works and how much they care," Bunting said Sunday. "I think it suggests that we have recruited well, and that we have a very resilient team."

Connor Barth kicked a 42-yard field on the final play Saturday night to give North Carolina its biggest win in years, setting off a wild celebration on the field. Players and fans hugged each other or simply looked around in amazement, while Bunting tried futilely to find Hurricanes coach Larry Coker for a post-game handshake.

Both goal posts were torn down within minutes of the ball sailing through the uprights, and the only plea from the school was that they be left inside the stadium.

Sure enough, a couple of hours later, the pieces were piled up just outside the end zone.

"Dick Baddour said he would be glad to pay for them week in and week out," Bunting said of the Tar Heels' athletic director.

The Hurricanes were ranked fourth and came into the game as a three-touchdown favorite. Their second trip in as many weeks to Tobacco Road was supposed to be just as easy as the first, when they beat North Carolina State 45-31.

It didn't work out that way. Third-string Tar Heels tailback Chad Scott rushed for a career-high 175 yards and scored two touchdowns -- including one after leaving briefly with a hip injury -- and Darian Durant was 21-of-29 for 266 yards and two more scores.

They gained 545 yards -- the most Miami had given up since 2000 -- and drove 65 yards to set up the winning kick.

"I am very honored as a head coach to be out there with those kids," Bunting said. "I was proud of the way those kids battled and hung in there. And then it comes down to a kick and our young freshman put it through."

Bunting's status with North Carolina has been the subject of much speculation after he totaled only five victories and several lopsided losses in the past two seasons. Before stunning Miami, they lost 46-16 to Utah while allowing 669 yards.

Somehow, they rebounded, and now Bunting has North Carolina (4-4, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference ) solidly in the bowl picture. The remaining schedule features a home game next week against No. 18 Virginia Tech and then trips to Wake Forest and Duke.

"Everybody in our program is 100 percent behind John Bunting," North Carolina center Jason Brown said. "That is our coach, and we love him to death. We're going to win out our season. And our coaching staff is going to be around here a very long time."

But that comes later. Right now, Bunting and his players can enjoy one of the defining moments in the 117-year history of the program.

"I was speechless, in tears," Tar Heels wide receiver Jesse Holley said. "My yell wouldn't even come out. I was trying to yell, wasn't nothing coming out. Wow."