FOOTBALL: UNC 35, VIRGINIA 14

Elijah Hood channels engagement, encouragement in No. 21 UNC football's win over Virginia

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Elijah Hood (34) fends off a Virginia defender. UNC defeated UVA 35-14 on Saturday, October 23.

The day before the Tar Heels (6-2, 4-1 ACC) took the field in Charlottesville, Virginia, he proposed to his girlfriend, Shelby Valeriano.

Hood got to celebrate his engagement by facing the Cavaliers (2-5, 1-2 ACC) — a team he rushed for 101 yards and scored two touchdowns against in last year’s 26-13 win in Chapel Hill.

If that was not enough cause for celebration, Saturday also marked his fiancee’s birthday.

So when Hood ended the day with 107 rushing yards and a touchdown — only his second 100-yard rushing game of the season — in No. 22 UNC’s 35-14 win on Saturday, it was just the icing on the cake for the junior running back.

“I felt pretty good out there hitting the holes and making my reads,” Hood said. “It felt pretty smooth. At that point I knew I was feeling pretty good, so I was just saying, ‘Keep feeding it.’”

For Hood, this year has been somewhat disappointing on the field.

Coming into Saturday’s contest — his second game back after sitting out with a concussion against Virginia Tech — the tailback from Charlotte had totaled 369 yards on 80 carries with only four touchdowns in six games.

Those were not the types of numbers Hood or anyone else was expecting this late in the season.

“It can get kind of frustrating when you know you want to be at a certain level, and you’re not being productive at that level that you kind of expect for yourself,” Hood said.

Everyone around the program knew the junior was too talented to stay in a funk all season.

So they did what they could to keep him upbeat.

“The coaches and my teammates have done a great job of just trying to keep me up and keep me positive,” Hood said. “Just telling me, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming, just keep working.’

“And I listened to them, and I guess that game finally came.”

His breakout game could not have come at a more opportune time for the Tar Heels. Redshirt senior Jon Heck missed the game with an injury, adding another blow to an offensive line that was already down several starters.

But Hood’s hard running in key third-down situations earned an inexperienced line a positive review from Coach Larry Fedora after the game.

“We ran the ball pretty well,” Fedora said. “So I’m gonna say — just in the little bit that I saw — I thought they did a nice job.”

His performance also gave everyone a look at how well UNC can play when everyone is playing up to their potential. With the bye week to get healthy, the Tar Heels could be formidable heading into the last month of the regular season.

And Hood will play a large part in that.

“They’ve got to respect our run,” said senior receiver Ryan Switzer. “Obviously we’re at our best as an offense when him and T.J. (Logan) are running well and getting big chunks of yards.”

After the memorable weekend that he had, the relief on Hood’s face was clear.

“We were finally able to get the whole gang back together,” Hood said. “It feels like a long time coming.”

@CPhillips2020

sports@dailytarheel.com

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