The North Carolina Tar Heels continue to find ways to lose in spectacular fashion. Saturday night was no different as the Virginia Tech Hokies scored with 19 seconds left to beat the Heels, 22-19.
The final drive was atypical of a defensive effort that was easily the best of the season for the Tar Heels. The defense kept the Tar Heels in the game, but they couldn’t find that one final play on the 98 yard drive as Dalton Keene reeled in the one yard pass to seal Carolina’s fate.
The beginning of the game seemed ominous for the Tar Heels. With his first snap under center, Freshman Quarterback Cade Fortin handed off to Antonio Williams who fumbled the ball after a ten yard gain. Virginia Tech would cash it in four plays later off a Ryan Willis play fake, and everyone on the Tar Heel defense failed to notice the Virginia Tech quarterback still had the ball.
To the credit of both sides of the ball, Virginia Tech would have trouble scoring after that drive and the offense whittled down the lead with a couple of field goals. One came off an Patrice Rene Interception, which the Heels were able to turn into a burst from Michael Carter. The subsequent touchdown was called back by a holding penalty, however, and the offense couldn’t cash it in.
Missed opportunities became a theme of the night. Fortin had two beautifully thrown passes to Dazz Newsome, who couldn’t reign either one and one would have been a sure touchdown. Another Anthony Ratliff-Williams deep punt runback resulted in a field goal attempt that was missed. On their next series, they got all the way to the Hokie 26 but on fourth and one a bad spot led to a turnover on downs, and replay couldn’t overturn it. Each time the defense held.
The offense finally managed to take the lead with 49 seconds left, but it came at a cost. On third and goal, Fortin was hurt as he was going down on a scramble. His leg would get caught in the air by another player going down. Carolina would kick the field goal, but the drive may have cost Carolina their best quarterback on the roster.
All told, in the first half alone, Carolina outgained the Hokies 262-118, and a ridiculous 143-9 in the second quarter. That they only had 6 points to show for it amplified the missed chances.
Fortin wouldn’t return for the second half, but the Tar Heels would finally find the end zone on the back of another Michael Carter run, this one for 49 yards, and an Anthony Ratliff-Williams touchdown catch where he was wide open. The score would put the Heels up 16-7 and start to give the crowd hope for the first time in three seasons that Carolina could pull off a win against the Hokies.
Virginia Tech then put together their first complete drive of the game, as the Hokies would march 75 yards to get the answer. Carolina almost had a three and out, but Willis was able to complete a pass under pressure to Eric Kumah, and the Hokies would eventually cash it in on a run after the catch TD by Sean Savoy. Carolina would then continue the missed opportunities theme by wasting another Carter run and missing a field goal.
It started to look like the defense was going to wilt after that miss, but as VT was driving J.K. Britt picked off Willis just short of the goal line, and Carolina was able to go into the fourth quarter with the lead. The offense returned to form on the subsequent drive, getting little chunks at a time and working it back to Hokie territory. They again couldn’t find the end zone, but Freeman Jones was able to recover from his earlier misses and nail the 35-yarder.
The defense would hold again, and in what looked like a situation where Carolina would just try to avoid a safety, Nathan Elliott hit Carl Tucker for a pass over the middle that netted 80 yards. Right Carolina looked like they were going to cash in for a clinching TD, Michael Carter had the ball popped out of his hands with a perfect hit, and the fumble saved Virginia Tech.
The fumble spoiled what was career game for Carter. He ended with 165 yards on 18 carries, and easily was the best player on offense for the Heels. Elliott finished with 10/14 with 149 yards and one TD. In the end, the 235 yards on the ground for Carolina just wasn't enough.
Willis would finish with 221 yards in the air and two TDs, and the Hokies were able to get 154 yards on the ground.
Carolina has to recover quickly, as they travel up to Syracuse Saturday for a 12:20 game against the Orange.