After three fumbles and eight sacks, UNC’s offense struggled against Georgia Tech’s ACC-best passing defense, then was put to bed by the Yellow Jackets’ offense. In the team's third ACC matchup of the year, the Tar Heels lost to the Yellow Jackets, 45-22.
Junior quarterback Sam Howell came out of the pocket hot with 39 rushing yards in UNC’s first two possessions. North Carolina’s second drive started on the 40 from first-year linebacker Trevion Stevenson’s tip on the returning punt — on second down, Howell muscled past five Georgia Tech defenders to score the first points of the game.
Early in the second, the Yellow Jackets kicked a field goal that barely snuck in the left side of the post to get on the scoreboard. In UNC’s next possession, Howell fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Georgia Tech on UNC’s 10-yard line. Although UNC’s defense kept the Yellow Jackets from scoring a touchdown, the fumble cost UNC a field goal.
UNC made the same mistake with just over three minutes left in the second quarter, with another tackle made from a quarterback keeper was fumbled and recovered by Georgia Tech’s Demetrius Knight II to a 37-yard run on an open field. The Yellow Jackets scored their first touchdown of the night just two plays later, putting in a new quarterback off the bench, Jeff Sims, who carried the ball 11 yards down the open field.
To begin the second half down 13-7, North Carolina took a chance on a one-yard fourth down, which was futilely rushed by Howell and turned over. After a 38-yard gain by Sims’ quarterback keeper, he proceeded to jog into the endzone for another touchdown, giving the Yellow Jackets a 13-point lead.
Georgia Tech scored on its next drive, going up 27-7. After that score, Howell quickly converted passes to graduate tight end Garrett Walston, junior wide receiver Emery Simmons and sophomore tight end Kamari Morales, whose hands caught a seven-yard rocket into the endzone.
Not letting up, Sims threw a 28-yard reception to the endzone, caught by Georgia Tech’s Malachi Carter through the arm of junior defensive back Kyler McMichael. The Yellow Jackets, despite their double digit lead, went for a two-point conversion and won it on a trick play.
Unable to rush through Georgia Tech traffic, Howell shot a 63-yard ball to Simmons in the right downfield. On third and goal, Howell fired to the right of the endzone, then completed a two-point conversion to sophomore offensive lineman Cayden Baker to stay in the game.
The Yellow Jackets drove down from their 35 to kick a field goal, pulling up to 38 points and leaving UNC out of a two-touchdown range. After another forced fumble on Howell, Sims stormed a 50-yard quarterback keeper for another touchdown, concluding the fourth quarter UNC loss, 22-45.
Who stood out?
Simmons stood out on a number of catches, but his clutch 63-yard reception to lead the Tar Heels to advance to 22 points gave the team hope in the fourth.
With seven receptions, a touchdown and 66 total yards gained, Morales also made a difference on the offensive onslaught.
When was it decided?
The Tar Heels were in the making of a comeback after their 20-point deficit in the third quarter, responding immediately with a touchdown. But after Georgia Tech got a field goal then recovered UNC’s third fumble of the game, the Yellow Jackets suffocated the Tar Heels with one last 50-yard touchdown, run in by Sims.
Why does it matter?
This loss against another ACC team puts UNC 1-2 in conference play, which makes its next three straight ACC games at home against Duke, Florida State and Miami all the more important.
When do they play next?
UNC will face its Tobacco Road rival, the Duke Blue Devils, next Saturday in Kenan Stadium for its first game of a three-week home stand. Kickoff is slated for noon.
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