With true first-year Cade Fortin under center for his first career start, the Tar Heels began the game poorly. An Antonio Williams fumble on UNC’s first offensive play gave Virginia Tech excellent field position. The Hokies promptly scored on a 33-yard read option keeper from Willis.
On the Tar Heels’ next possession, running back Michael Carter ripped off a 49-yard gain. But a bobbled snap near the goal line backed up UNC, and the team had to settle for a Freeman Jones field goal.
For the remainder of the first half, North Carolina did an excellent job containing the Virginia Tech offense. After a 4-play, 45-yard opening drive, the Hokies gained just 73 more first-half yards on 30 plays (2.43 yards per play).
With that defensive success came offensive struggles, though. After a 40-yard run from Fortin, a short Carter touchdown was called back on a holding penalty. UNC had to settle for another field goal, which cut its deficit to 6-3.
On the Tar Heels’ last possession of the half, tight end Carl Tucker picked up 43 yards on a trick-play pass from wide receive Dazz Newsome. But UNC, once again, stalled — a third Jones field goal gave North Carolina a 9-7 lead at the half.
Virginia Tech went three-and-out to start the second half, which gave North Carolina the ball on its own 32. Quarterback Nathan Elliott, in for an injured Fortin, led the team on its first touchdown drive of the day. Carter had a second run of 49 yards on that drive, and Elliott found wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams for a touchdown four plays later.
Trailing 16-7, the Hokies responded. Wide receiver Eric Kumah had third-down conversions of 33 and seven yards, and Virginia Tech scored on a short screen pass to make it 16-14.
UNC’s offense, now in more of a rhythm, had another long drive that resulted in a missed Jones field goal. But after a J.K. Britt interception, Elliott drove the Tar Heels close enough for another Jones field goal, which gave them a 19-14 lead.
From that point forward, the previously documented epics occurred.
Who stood out?
On a night of inconsistency at the quarterback position, Dazz Newsome stood out on offense for the Tar Heels. Though he dropped a long pass from Fortin in the first half that likely would have produced a touchdown, he made up for it in other ways. Newsome caught five passes for 53 yards, ran back three punts for 51 yards and threw for 43 yards.
Carter rushed 18 times for 165 yards, an average of 9.2 yards per carry. Willis was 20 of 26 for 221 yards and two touchdowns for VT. He also rushed 15 times for 88 yards and a touchdown.
When was it decided?
North Carolina looked in position to take control of the game late in the fourth quarter. Leading 19-14, UNC had the ball in the red zone on Virginia Tech’s two-yard line. But a Carter fumble gave the Hokies the ball, and they took advantage.
Willis led Virginia Tech 98 yards on 18 plays in its final drive, enough to give Virginia Tech the win.
Why does it matter?
With a new quarterback under center and an enthusiastic crowd in a primetime environment, a win could have changed the tone of UNC’s season. Now, North Carolina will have to deal with a heartbreaker of a loss.
The loss drops the Tar Heels to 1-4, and 1-2 in the ACC. They sit at the bottom of the ACC Coastal alongside Georgia Tech.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels travel to play Syracuse on Oct. 20 at 12:20 p.m. in the Carrier Dome.