North Carolina has ‘been there, done that’ feeling going into Senior Day at NC State

North Carolina’s Mack Brown can laugh about it now, and did Monday in talking about the football rivalry with N.C. State.

Brown had coached at UNC, then Texas, before becoming a TV analyst. Having worked a State-Carolina game at Kenan Stadium, he was leaving when confronted with some young, vociferous Wolfpack fans.

“A bunch were yelling at me,” Brown said, smiling. “And they said, ‘We HATE you!’ The guy’s 25. I said, ‘You don’t even remember me coaching here.’ And he said, ‘Well, my dad hated you!’

“So that’s just part of it. Fans are what rivalry games are about. Some work with each other. They see each other at the grocery store and see each other at church and they stick their chests out and brag when their team is winning. And when they lose, the other bunch was mad at them for sticking their chests out and bragging so they do it.”

Such is the nature of the rivalry. Memories can last generations and stories told and retold, some factual and some embellished over time.

In the fifth year of Mack Brown 2.0 at UNC, he’ll be coaching in his 15th State-Carolina game — 10 during his first stint in Chapel Hill — at 8 p.m. Saturday when the Heels and Pack close out the regular season at Carter-Finley Stadium.

It will be Senior Day at N.C State, just as it was this past Saturday at Clemson. Memorial Stadium, full and loud, was rocking as the Tigers punched out a 31-20 victory over UNC (8-3, 4-3 ACC), then ranked No. 22.

Now, on to Carter-Finley.

“Both have very good environments,” Brown said. “I told the guys that — you’ve been there, done that, so get ready again. It will be the same thing.It will be two senior days in a row.

“Thank you, ACC. Appreciate it.”

The Pack (8-3, 5-2), which has won its last four games, will be after its third straight in the series after scintillating wins the past two years — 34-30 at Carter-Finley in 2021 and then 30-27 in double overtime last year at Kenan.

Two years ago, the Heels led 30-21 with 2:12 left in regulation. Then came a touchdown pass to Emeka Emezie, a recovered onside kick by the Wolfpack and another TD pass from Devin Leary to Emezie. Sam Howell’s “Hail Mary” throw was intercepted in the end zone on the final play, and it was total bedlam at Carter-Finley.

N.C. State Derrick Pitts (24) intercepts a Sam Howell pass on the final play of the game to secure the Wolfpack’s 34-30 victory over North Carolina on Friday, November 26, 2021 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.
N.C. State Derrick Pitts (24) intercepts a Sam Howell pass on the final play of the game to secure the Wolfpack’s 34-30 victory over North Carolina on Friday, November 26, 2021 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

Brown, 7-7 overall against N.C. State. said he likes rivalry games. He said many of the players know each other. The coaches know and respect each other as peers.

But emotions can spill over in this game, as Brown well knows.

In 1993, there was a nasty fight on the field at Carter-Finley after UNC won 35-14, Brown’s first win in the series.

Brown said he was already in the locker room after the game when an UNC assistant coach approached him to say there had been a fight on the field.

But not players. UNC assistant coach Donnie Thompson had tackled Pack assistant coach Ted Cain and the two went after it until pulled apart.

Brown said, “Bruce Johnson, who was very direct, came in and sat next to me and said, ‘Donnie Thompson just got in a fight in the middle of the field with Ted Cain.’ ... I said, “Right now, out there? He said, ‘Yeah, and the TV cameras were all over it, so you’re going to be asked about it and you better get ready.’

“I had no clue. And they had recruited against each other and I think one of them thought the other one had made fun of him when they lost and so he was trying to do the same. And it didn’t work well.”

Thompson and Cain each were suspended by the ACC, and Brown said they later appeared before the NCAA’s ethics committee. Brown said as a committee member, he had to recuse himself.

“They were standing outside as the committee was about to go in and they were on each side of the hallway,” Brown said. “I said, “Come here, both of you. Look, this is stupid. Apologize. Go in there and be nice. You’re emotional, you want to win … but get over it. If you want to coach anymore, get over it and more on. And they did.”

Brown said the two shook hands and that was that.

But again, such is the nature of the rivalry and so much can — and often — does happen. Crazy things, unexpected plays, a coaches’ fight at midfield.

As Brown put it, rivalry games are “something heroes are made in.” Just mention the names from the past — Ted Brown, Amos Lawrence, T.A. McLendon, Gio Bernard ...— and the history of the series quickly comes alive again.

Mark Maye was the UNC quarterback in one of the most thrilling games in the series — the Pack’s 35-34 win at Kenan in 1986. Twenty-seven years later, Drake Maye will be looking to achieve what his dad did not do in ‘86, quarterback the Heels to victory.

“If you go to Carolina, you want to beat State,” Drake Maye said Saturday after the Clemson game.