Second-half momentum shift dooms Tar Heels
ATLANTA — It was a perfect first collegiate touchdown for North Carolina freshman Ryan Switzer.
An 82-yard reception and sprint into a wide-open end zone with a trio of Georgia Tech defenders chasing behind is more than the wide receiver could have hoped for.
But as the referee’s whistle sounded shrilly through Bobby Dodd Stadium early in the third quarter, Switzer’s and the North Carolina football team’s hopes of escaping Atlanta with a statement win deflated, and the momentum began to shift toward the home team, never to return to the Tar Heels.
With a holding call on redshirt freshman Jon Heck, the touchdown was brought back, forcing UNC (1-2, 0-1 ACC) back deep into its own territory and spiraling toward its 10th ACC opening loss in the last 11 years.
And after the penalty, UNC didn’t come close to putting any additional points on the board, eventually losing to Georgia Tech (3-0, 2-0 ACC) 28-20.
“I think that was a little problem we had, trying to get over that missed call on that touchdown call that we should have had,” sophomore running back Romar Morris said.
After the game, coach Larry Fedora said he hoped the penalty didn’t affect his players’ mentality, but his team’s second-half performance suggests otherwise.
The Tar Heels failed to score in the second half, and quarterback Bryn Renner’s first half production slowed to 40 yards passing and an interception after completing 10 of 20 passes for 178 yards in the first half. The Tar Heels failed to convert their four third down conversions in the second half and only maintained possession for 7 minutes 21 seconds of the final 30 minutes.
“We talk about (overcoming) adversity all the time,” Fedora said. “You jut have to put it behind you and move on. If it is affecting us mentally, then we’re doing a poor job dealing with the adversity.”
The Tar Heels had plenty of adversity to combat throughout the game, collecting eight penalties for 57 yards. Junior Norkeithus Otis picked up a 15-yard personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct.
North Carolina had its chances to turn the tables on the Yellow Jackets when Georgia Tech put the ball on the ground four times, but UNC only recovered one of those fumbles.
“Especially with a team like this, they rarely turn the ball over, even when they pitch it all the time, and we had about three or four occasions where the ball was on the ground and we only got one,” defensive end Kareem Martin said. “It’s definitely a little disheartening. You’ve just got to line up the next play and continue playing as if it didn’t happen.”
But as the blows kept coming, the Tar Heels were never able to fully recover from touchdown that wasn’t, and lost their fifth game to Georgia Tech in as many years.
“That’s always tough when you make a play on the field and it gets called back,” Martin said. “That’s always tough any time but you’ve got to go to the next play and that definitely would have helped us.
“It definitely would have given us the momentum going back out there for defense. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.”