The One That Got Away: Penalty turns the tide
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Utah safety Eric Weddle's interception return for a touchdown late in the third quarter Saturday was one of those defining, game-changing plays.
Only not in the Utes' favor.
The play was called back because of a penalty - "Roughing the passer, I guess" was Ute coach Kyle Whittingham's description - on safety Casey Evans. It gave North Carolina a first down at its 47-yard line and the Tar Heels completed a touchdown drive, helping them to a 31-17 victory at Kenan Stadium.
Weddle's 37-yard score would have given the Utes a 21-17 lead. As it was, UNC's Matt Baker completed a 40-yard pass to Mike Mason that led to a touchdown, giving the Heels a 24-14 edge.
"It was tough, because we were battling," Weddle said. "That was a huge swing."
Evans intercepted a pass to stop a first-half drive and made nine tackles in the game, including one for a loss, but the roughing call will stick with him. Evans sat stoically during the postgame interview session as Weddle spoke about the play and Whittingham questioned the call.
"I can't say for certain until I see the tape, but as it happened, I thought it was a legal hit," Whittingham said.
Evans also believed he made a normally aggressive play, and was "pretty shocked" when the referee threw the flag. Unlike a late hit, roughing the passer is a live-ball call that nullifies an interception.
The play was similar to Weddle's touchdown return in the season opener against Arizona, which also came late in the third quarter and gave the Utes some cushion in an eventual 27-24 victory.
- Kurt Kragthorpe