North Carolina's players said all week they felt no extra pressure playing Notre Dame. Instead, they were the ones who put stress on the Fighting Irish on Saturday when it mattered the most.
North Carolina's 29-24 victory at raucous Kenan Stadium leaves North Carolina (5-1) one victory away from bowl eligibility, and marks only the second win in 18 gridiron matchups with Notre Dame (4-2).
The No. 22 Tar Heels used four second-half turnovers -- including a fumble recovery with three seconds left that required officials replay -- to counter an otherwise impressive outing from Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen (31 of 48 for 383 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions).
"That's definitely something I'm going to remember for a long while," linebacker Mark Paschal said, "the defense being on the field to win it."
Especially because UNC struggled to get to Clausen early with four- and three-man fronts early, as Notre Dame punished the Tar Heels with five-receiver sets to open the game.
Although linebacker Bruce Carter recorded the first sack of his career, Clausen controlled the attack, passing for 199 of the Irish's 260 first-half yards.
"They had us reeling, and it took a while for us to scratch some things on the sidelines and tweak some coverages and come up with some things that our kids could execute and do," North Carolina coach Butch Davis said.
Like create turnovers. On the first offensive play of the second half, North Carolina linebacker Quan Sturdivant stepped in front of a Clausen pass intended for Kyle Rudolph and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
It marked the 13th interception of the season for the Tar Heels, and the third return for a touchdown this year. The extra point cut UNC's deficit to 17-16 with 14:48 left in the third.
"It electrified the team," Davis said, "and it got our mojo going again."
The teams traded touchdowns when James Aldridge scored on a 2-yard run for Notre Dame and Ryan Houston ran from one yard out for the Tar Heels.
Then, with Notre Dame leading, 24-22, after UNC's two-point conversion failed, Carolina lineman Aleric Mullins stripped Clausen on a sack and recovered the fumble. That eventually led to a 4-yard touchdown hurdle by quarterback Cameron Sexton (18 of 32, 201 yards) that gave the Tar Heels their first lead of the game, at 29-24, with 14:50 left in the game.
With 4:50 left, safety Deunta Williams' interception thwarted ND.
Then with 11 seconds left, Clausen threw 26 yards to Michael Floyd, who had the ball stripped by Jordan Hemby at the 7. North Carolina's Trimane Goddard hopped on it, but it took instant replay to rule it a fumble.
"I thought that he had called him down with what I thought was 4 seconds to go," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. ". . . But it really doesn't make a difference what I thought."