For nearly three quarters North Carolina cautiously straddled the line between success and failure.
There were some missed opportunities some penalties some turnovers — but none of it mattered.
Defensively the Tar Heels contained dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor and forced two turnovers as Virginia Tech (3-1 2-0 in the ACC) failed to establish any semblance of an offense.
Offensively UNC confidently moved the ball down field with an array of end-arounds slants and posts.
The stat book read heavily in UNC's favor in total yardage and starting field position and it seemed another rout was in the works.
Then North Carolina sophomore quarterback T.J. Yates suffered a left ankle sprain on a third-quarter sack and exited the game.
With redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Paulus at the helm" momentum swung toward the Hokie sideline and all of those miscues and points left on the field proved too much to overcome.
The Tar Heels' tight-rope walk came to a crashing conclusion as Va. Tech rallied for a 20-17 win Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
""It's very disappointing to lose a game like this" coach Butch Davis said.
We played so well for the first 30 minutes of the game" then played so poorly for the second 30 minutes.""
As good as the Tar Heels (2-1" 0-1) looked for much of the game they also repeatedly shot themselves in the feet. The chief perpetrator was an onslaught of penalties — 14 of them for 121 yards.
Those flags killed UNC scoring chances and left the door open for Va. Tech's 17-point comeback.
On the Hokies' 89-yard drive that cut their deficit to seven" North Carolina twice bailed out the opposition with costly penalties.
Quan Sturdivant's personal foul and Deunta Williams' pass interference each negated UNC's third-down success and indirectly led to Darren Evans' 10-yard touchdown run.
""You can't kill yourselves" Marvin Austin said.
We had them" but you just can't have big penalties.""
The same thing occurred on offense. When presented with good starting field position"" North Carolina routinely found a way to botch an opportunity to put up some points.
The Tar Heels found themselves in Hokie territory five times in the first half and only managed 10 points.
""You can't miss a field goal"" Davis said. You can't get the ball inside the 35-yard line — I think we had it down there three times (Saturday) — and come away with no points.""
Still" it looked like UNC could have been able to survive its shortcomings and possibly even blow out the Hokies.
Senior wide receiver Brandon Tate continued to be well Brandon Tate reaching the end zone on a 32-yard pass from Yates.
And Greg Little broke off a 50-yard touchdown run — the longest of his career — on the first offensive play after Yates' injury.
But sans Yates North Carolina lost its calming presence on the field.
As soon as the Hokies scored to get back in the game the Tar Heels' offense wilted under the pressure. North Carolina's final four possessions ended in either a turnover or a three-and-out.
A Little fumble gave Va. Tech the ball deep inside UNC territory near the end of the third quarter. Five plays later Kenny Lewis Jr. rumbled into the end zone to tie the game.
A three-and-out led to a 20-17 Va. Tech advantage. And to top it off Paulus threw a red-zone interception as North Carolina started a late rally to tie or take the lead.
By then against an exhausted Tar Heel defense the Hokies were able to run the ball at will" bleed the clock and ice the win.
""I'm not a very happy kid right now"" Paschal said.
It's going to be something that I look back and it's going to eat at me for a long time.
""Because we had a situation where we had them right there" right on the edge" and we just couldn't push them over.""
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