Current Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora won his first game at Carolina in 2012, a 62-0 rout of Elon. Former Tar Heel head coach Butch Davis also won his first game as a 37-14 win over James Madison. As impressive as those first wins were, every Tar Heel football coach for the rest of the program’s history will have a hard time surpassing the first win of former coach John Bunting. Bunting’s first team upset the 5th ranked Florida State Seminoles 41-9 on September 22nd, 2001 for arguably the program’s greatest win and one of the most shocking upsets in ACC history.
The Tar Heels opened the 2001 season 0-3 against the toughest schedule in the nation up to that point, playing all three games on the road. The Heels loss their opening game to the defending national champions Oklahoma 41-27; the following weekend they loss 23-7 to the eventual ACC champs that season in Maryland, who would only lose twice all season to Florida State on the road and the Florida Gators in the Orange Bowl.
The third loss came against former Tar Heel coach Mack Brown’s Texas Longhorns, who were always one of the most talented teams in the country. They dominated the Heels 44-14. The way the Heels struggled to open the season made it seem unlikely that they could pull off the upset against the powerful Seminoles, and they entered the game as a 17-point underdog. The Noles were riding a 24-game ACC winning streak and had played in the first the 3 BCS national title games, winning it in 1999 and despite the fact that they were replacing their Heisman winning quarterback Chris Weinke with a redshirt freshman Chris Rix. However, they were still expected to run through the Heels just like always. The Seminoles had outscored them 144-37 over the previous 3 seasons.
The Heels opened the scoring in the 1st quarter on a 20-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Darian Durant to Sam Aiken. The Seminoles would score their only points in the 2nd quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Rix to Talman Gardner and a safety a few minutes later to take a 9-7 halftime lead, after that many expected the scoring onslaught to start.
The scoring started early in the 3rd quarter when Durant connected with Chesley Borders for a 52-yard touchdown, followed by two Jeff Reed field goals that push the lead to 20-9 entering the 4th quarter. The Tar Heels defense limited the Seminoles to only 11 yards in the 3rd quarter, led by superstar Julius Peppers, who picked off Chris Rix for one of the five turnovers the Heels defense forced on the day. Senior quarterback Ronald Curry would get in on the scoreboard in the 4th quarter, hitting Kory Bailey for 53-yard touchdown pass. He finished off the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run to complete a 34-point 2nd half explosion.
The quarterback duo of Curry and Durant would combine to go 14-30 for 232 yards and 3 touchdowns. The leading rusher in the game for the Heels was Andre’ Williams who had 24 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown while the leading receivers were Sam Aiken who had 5 catches for 63 yards and Kory Bailey who had 3 catches for 61 yards and each scored a touchdown.
The loss was only the Seminoles 3rd loss in 74 games in ACC play up to that point, with the previous losses coming against N.C. State in 1998 and Virginia in 1995. The loss was so stunning that legendary coach Bobby Bowden said after the game “I haven’t even got a speech for this”. After the game the fans stormed the field and tore down one of the goal posts following the program’s first win over a top-5 team, it took Coach Bunting 15 minutes to get off the field. After the game, he said “I didn’t anticipate everybody being on the field after the game, that’s for sure. I guess if you win that’s’ going to happen isn’t it?” The Heels would win 7 of their last 9 games that season, beating 25th ranked Auburn in the Peach Bowl to finish the season 8-5 and 5-3 in the ACC in Coach Bunting’s first season in Chapel Hill.
Quotes from this CNNSI.com story.