CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Regis Crawford said it seemed like an eternity before an official decided whether Skyler Fulton had indeed caught the winning touchdown for Arizona State on the final play of the game.
"I was just out there blocking somebody and it just seemed like forever the ball hung there. Then he caught it, I was thinking, ‘Did he catch it in bounds? Did he catch it in bounds?’ " the senior offensive guard said. "The ref went over there the slowest as I've ever seen a man run in my life. When he finally threw his hands up I went crazy."
He wasn't the only one. Fulton's 5-yard grab in back of the North Carolina end zone provided one of the most dramatic victories in ASU history, 33-31, and touched off a wild celebration for the players and coaches, and the fans who ventured to Tobacco Road.
"That's one of the craziest things I've ever been a part of in my life," Crawford said after ASU drove 61 yards in 36 seconds.
The Devils (4-3) needed an heroic finish despite gaining 598 yards, 267 more than the Tar Heels (1-6).
That was due in part to 16 penalties called by an ACC crew that made one strange call after another.
The last bizarre call was an offensive pass interference flag on Derek Hagan that with 2:32 left had wiped out a first-down reception at the North Carolina 32.
Faced with fourth and 20, the Devils were forced to punt.
All North Carolina had to do was get one first down to send the homecoming crowd, which included ESPN anchor and North Carolina alum Stuart Scott, home happy and end a nine-game losing streak at Kenan Stadium.
"It was looking bleak there," said ASU coach Dirk Koetter.
But on third and one at North Carolina 45, a trio of Sun Devils denied tailback Ronnie McGill the first down.
"Everyone told each other to keep on fighting, don't give up," said linebacker Justin Burks, who decided to come to ASU over North Carolina. "Our motto is CPC — Compete with Passion and Character. We felt we had to keep playing because anything could happen."
And it did for the Sun Devils, who were out of timeouts when they got the ball back.
ASU had to perform in every phase of the game to pull out the win.
After the defense made the big stop, Daryl Lightfoot returned North Carolina's punt 28 yards to the ASU 39.
"The punt return is what hurt us," said North Carolina quarterback Darian Durant.
Walter, who passed for 408 yards and three touchdowns, completed a 14-yarder to Matt Miller. After an incompletion, Walter hooked up with rising star Derek Hagan on a 42-yard catch-and-run to North Carolina 7.
"If he had any speed, he should have scored there," Koetter said.
Said Hagan, "There were three different things going through my mind: Should I try to score? Should I get out of bounds? When I got tackled, I was thinking, oh no, that's the game for us."
Not quite. There was still enough time for ASU to line up and spike the ball with seven seconds remaining.
Time for two plays.
A pass to Fulton was broken up with three ticks left.
With the estimated 42,000 fans yelling for the home team, the Devils ran the same play, but with a variation.
"It was just a corner route," said Fulton, who had seven catches for 68 yards. "I saw the ball in the air and went up and grabbed it. The ball was in a perfect spot."
Koetter said Fulton was the second option; the first was Hagan.
"That was one of our bread-and-butter plays," Walter said. "Thank god, Skyler ran a good route."
Said Koetter, "We had a zone beater in there. Great throw. Great catch."
The swing of emotions from what would have been a thoroughly disappointing defeat to a miracle drive for the ages.
"Wow! What an awesome job by our team of hanging in there and just battling to the very end, not giving up," Koetter said.
ASU expanded a 20-14 halftime lead to 27-17 in the third quarter. But the Tar Heels got a McGill 1-yard run and pass from Durant to Jacque Lewis to lead 31-27 with 7:43 remaining.
ASU turned the ball over on downs at the North Carolina 36 on its next possession with 4:13 left.
"It's like someone gave you a great body shot and all the air is sucked out of you," said North Carolina coach John Bunting of his team's demoralizing loss. "This is one of the very emotional games I've been in."
The Devils will now carry a two-game winning streak to UCLA this week.
"It's great for our kids to win one like this in dramatic finish," said Brent Guy, ASU's defensive coordinator. "We learned a great lesson: It's never over until it's over."