It’s difficult to point to the one play that changed the game. North Carolina (6-4, 3-3) had its opportunities. The Tar Heels were knocking at Virginia Tech’s door, but each time the Hokies stole their candy.
The unraveling may have started when, after giving up ten points in two drives and finding itself down 19-10, UNC forced a three-and-out punt. The kick sailed toward UNC’s trusted returner Da’Norris Searcy, bounced and then hit Searcy’s hand. He rushed for the ball, but Virginia Tech gunners were already on it.
UNC coach Butch Davis challenged the call, partly because Searcy assured him he did not touch the ball and partly because the game was all but out of reach if the play stood, which it did.
“I was trying to scoop it, but I slipped and the ball went right by me,” Searcy said.
“I was (surprised). And I was upset as well, because I knew I didn’t touch it.”
Virginia Tech scored within three minutes of the turnover to go up 26-10 near the end of the third quarter.
Sixteen points was a deficit too big to overcome, especially for the Tar Heels, who recorded as many first downs as they did penalties in the third quarter.
“They kind of had our number in a certain amount of ways,” senior quarterback T.J. Yates said. “It’s kind of like, we couldn’t really do anything to combat it and it’s just one of those days where stuff starts piling on top of each other. It’s hard to dig yourself that deep out of a hole.”
But the Tar Heels tried.
It seemed all UNC had working for it were the legs of Anthony Elzy, who finished the game with 184 all-purpose yards.
One 15-play, 75-yard drive took UNC to its opponent’s two-yard line. But on first-and-goal, Elzy made his lone mistake: a fumble.
“My heart dropped, especially seeing (the ball) in the end zone,” Elzy said. “It was just like I had the biggest letdown for my teammates. We were right there on the goal line, and I coughed the ball up.”
The only other chance UNC had ended when Yates threw a deep pass that the Hokies intercepted. Yates, who prior to Saturday’s game was a serious contender for ACC Player of the Year, finished with 197 yards, no touchdowns four interceptions — each picked off on deep passes.
The quarterback’s lone bright spot was setting the UNC record for career completions, which he now holds at 711.
And wide receiver Dwight Jones, who has accounted for an impressive 54 percent of UNC’s aerial attack in the previous four games, had just four yards against Virginia Tech.
“A great win for Virginia Tech,” Va. Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “We beat a really good football team, I think a really good football team.”
But even good teams have bad games.
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