Current Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2014 12:23:54 -0400
The focus was on finishing.
“Finishing the play, finishing the drive and finishing in the end zone,” said Larry Fedora, coach of the North Carolina football team.
But before the Tar Heels (4-2, 1-1) finished off Virginia Tech 48-34 on Saturday at Kenan Stadium the offense got off to a sluggish start. The first three drives ended in punts and quarterback Bryn Renner was struggling to find his targets down field.
After the Hokies (3-3, 1-1) took the 7-0 lead in the first quarter, the Tar Heels got the spark they needed from Sean Tapley on the ensuing kick-off. Tapley returned the kick 94 yards to the end zone to tie the score.
“I think it made their minds freak out,” Tapley said about the first kickoff return for a touchdown against Virginia Tech since 1993. “We saw it in their faces after we started making plays. They started to get down on themselves and we started to push.”
After finishing the first quarter tied at 14, North Carolina was faced a fourth and short to start the second quarter and the offensive line insisted that they did not want to finish that drive with another punt. Fedora wanted to punt, but they talked him out of it.
So on the first play of the quarter the line pushed back the Hokies, who were expecting a quarterback sneak, to open the door for Giovani Bernard to break a 62-yard touchdown run. The Tar Heels never trailed again.
That was Bernard’s only score of the day but he rushed for an astonishing 262 yards on 23 carries – an average of 11.4 per touch. That number is the most ever by a UNC running back and his 262 yards are the most yards Virginia Tech has ever given up to a single player.
But Bernard wasn’t the only Tar Heel to have success on the ground. A.J. Blue crossed the plane of the endzone twice and ran for 61 yards while showing off some smooth moves in the open field.
All told, UNC rushed for 339 yards on its way to 533 yards of total offense while the Hokies finished the day with 394 total yards.
“The offensive line, Gio, all the backs, A.J., Romar (Morris), they ran the ball great,” Renner said, “and really kind of bailed us out because we weren’t connected in the passing game and that’s what you have to do in these types of games.”
Renner said that the senior leaders of the team, including some of the guys on that offensive line that Fedora said “worked their rear-ends off,” talked this week about finishing off a big game because it was something they hadn’t done in a while.
But with Bernard’s huge day and an improved performance from the sometimes inconsistent Tar Heel secondary, UNC sent the Hokies back to Blacksburg with their first ACC loss in the state of North Carolina.
The Tar Heels didn’t make things easy on themselves however, as they committed 15 penalties that cost them 126 yards. Despite all those flags, Fedora was impressed with the way his team performed.
“This was a great measuring stick for us,” Fedora said. “This is Virginia Tech who has dominated the Coastal Division. We needed to go out and play a complete game against them and we talked about it being error free and, I don’t know, we had what? 87 penalties and we still came out on top.
“I can’t say enough about the effort of our football team.”