BLACKSBURG, VA. – It wasn’t easy, or pretty at times. But when the clock struck zero at Lane Stadium on the campus of Virginia Tech, North Carolina left as division champs.
After seeming to secure an easy win, almost give it away, then have to endure overtime, the Tar Heels defeated Virginia Tech, 30-27. With the win UNC punches its ticket to Charlotte for the ACC Championship game versus Clemson on December 5.
The Tar Heels, however, did make it interesting.
Holding a 24-10 lead with 7:56 remaining in regulation, the Hokies (5-6, 3-4) scored two late touchdowns to tie the game at 24. On Frank Beamer’s last game at Lane Stadium, playing for Bowl eligibility and it being senior day, all signs pointed to a Virginia Tech upset. Those signs pointed in the wrong direction.
North Carolina’s defense held the Hokies to a field goal in OT, then Marquise Williams found Quinshad Davis for the 5-yard, game-winning score. After a review, the refs made it official – Carolina won the game, and the Coastal.
“We did it,” a relieved Williams said after the game. “It was tough, but we came out and won and that’s the best feeling ever. I’m speechless man, we’re going to the ACC championship. That’s special.”
UNC (10-1, 7-0) ruined Tech’s special day, but it was almost the other way around.
The game was tied at 10 at the break, but two Elijah Hood touchdowns put Carolina ahead 14, making many think this one was wrapped up. But Hokies senior quarterback Michael Brewer hit Bucky Hodges for an 8-yard TD to pull his team within seven after the PAT.
On the ensuing drive, Williams (13-26, 205, 1TD) loss a fumble (his third of the game) and Brewer (20-35, 272, 2TDs) went to work again, 5-play, 48-yard scoring drive, this time hitting Isaiah Ford, tying the game at 24 after the extra point.
The defense, which played spectacular before giving up two fourth quarter touchdowns, was called upon to save the day.
“All we had to do was hold them to three, because our offense is potent,” UNC defensive tackle Nazair Jones said. “Really, we just had to get those guys the ball without seven on the board.”
Carolina’s defense buckled down, forcing a 41-yard field goal, giving Tech a three-point advantage. Once they got the ball back, UNC ran four plays, the final one a 5-yard strike from Williams to Davis. Ball game.
Williams said there was no doubt in his mind where he was going with the ball.
“That dude told me, ‘I got you back,’” Williams recalled. “He’s been having my back the whole night. He yelled at me a little bit, he said ‘man talk back to me,’”
Williams assured Davis the ball was coming his way, and the pair of seniors locked up a division title.
“I told him ‘come to me, I got you,’” Davis said. “I didn’t care if he looked anywhere else. I told him I would make the play.”
North Carolina’s high-powered offense was slowed down by the Hokies normally stout defense on this emotional day for the Virginia Tech program. The Heels scored on their opening drive, but had to settle for field goal the rest of the half. They went nine drives without a touchdown, with the defense bailing them out time and time again.
“I have to give credit to Virginia Tech and the way those guys battled,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “They threw everything they had at us.”
Fedora called this trip into Lane Stadium the “perfect storm.” Virginia Tech has every reason to win this game, with so much riding on it, mostly Beamer’s final home game on the sidelines. But this UNC team, Fedora said, has grit. They struggled, but found a way to make it happen, even if it took some extra football to get it down.
“It was all going against us,” Fedora said. “We knew we had to be error free and be sound in the basics, and we didn’t. But we found a way to win.”
Game changer: On the very last play of the third quarter, North Carolina defensive tackle Nazair Jones forced and recovered a fumble on the 45-yard line. The Heels drove the distance and capped the drive off with a 13-yard rushing score from Elijah Hood. It turned out to be the go-ahead score.
“We needed that, it was huge,” Fedora said. “For him to make the play, he made the tackle, got the strip and he recovered the fumble. That was a tremendous play for us. We needed every single turnover we got.”
Stick with it: A year ago, it would have been crazy to think the UNC defense would bail out the team. However, the scheme to put the pressure on the quarterback worked wonders for Carolina. The Heels sacked Brewer five times and was in his face numerous others.
10 – Consecutive wins for this North Carolina team.
3 – Number of turnovers forced by UNC, all in the second half.
240 – Number of rushing yards by North Carolina against a very physical Virginia Tech defense.
Elijah Hood, UNC – The sophomore running back finished with 117 yards and two scores. He also went over the 1,000 yard mark for the season.
Shakeel Rashad, UNC – Senior linebacker had 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack.
Des Lawrence, UNC – The junior corner had five tackles, and one huge interception in the fourth quarter.
What’s next?: North Carolina will make the short trip to Raleigh to close out the season versus rival North Carolina State. The Heels still want to capture the ‘state title.’ They’ve beaten Wake Forest, Duke and now the Wolfpack stand in their way of accomplishing one more goal.
“We’re not going to change,” Fedora said. “We’re going to still focus on our goals and that’s to be Coastal Division champs and state champs, and we still got work to do.”
Quote of the day: “College football is better when he’s (Frank Beamer) in it. I was honored to be on the field with him today.” – Larry Fedora, UNC coach on Beamer’s last game.