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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 13 UNC football shut out in second half in stunning 21-17 loss to Georgia Tech

UNC sophomore tight end Bryson Nesbit (18), runs the ball in Kenan Stadium on Nov. 19, 2022, as the Tar Heels face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The No.13 North Carolina football team (9-2, 6-1 ACC) fell to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-6, 4-4 ACC), 21-17, on Saturday night at Kenan Stadium.

What happened?

Georgia Tech’s offense sputtered on the first drive of the night after junior defensive lineman Kaimon Rucker tackled running back Dontae Smith for no gain on third down. On the ensuing drive, the Tar Heels made quick work of the Yellow Jackets, as sophomore running back Elijah Green darted untouched on UNC’s first offensive play for an 80-yard score.

Both teams would go scoreless for the remainder of the first quarter. An Omarion Hampton two-yard run set up UNC with a first-and-goal situation on its third possession of the game, but the offense stalled and North Carolina was forced to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Noah Burnette. 

Junior defensive cornerback Storm Duck intercepted redshirt Georgia Tech's Taisun Phommachanh to set the Tar Heels up in plus territory midway through the second quarter. Yet, North Carolina’s offense failed to capitalize, turning the ball over on downs inside the 10-yard line. 

On UNC’s next drive, a pair of receptions by sophomore tight end Bryson Nesbit set up the Tar Heels on the Georgia Tech one-yard line. One play later, Green burst around the right side of UNC’s offensive line and into the end zone to build a 17-0 lead. 

North Carolina’s defense was pitching a shutout until the Yellow Jackets’ second-to-last offensive possession. Georgia Tech’s nine-play scoring drive was capped off by Smith’s rushing touchdown, which cut UNC’s lead to 17-7 heading into the half. 

Out of the break, UNC’s offense failed to march into Yellow Jacket territory and were forced to punt. Georgia Tech replicated the same success it generated at the end of the first half — getting its running backs in space with screen plays and swing passes — to march down the field and score a touchdown. 

North Carolina’s offensive woes continued, as redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye threw his fourth interception of the season late in the third quarter. The Yellow Jackets capitalized on the ensuing drive with running back Hassan Hall's six-yard touchdown that gave the visitors the lead, 21-17.

UNC drove down the field looking to add a score in the final minutes, but on fourth down, a Maye passed slipped through the hands of junior wide receiver Josh Downs. From there, the Yellow Jackets picked up timely first downs and eventually ran out the clock to secure the upset.

Who stood out? 

Throughout the year, North Carolina’s running back room has been in search of a workhorse back. Starting in his fourth straight game, Green shined again as he rushed for 92 yards and two touchdowns.

On a night where the offense struggled for a large portion of the game, members of UNC’s defense had standout nights. Junior linebacker Cedric Gray led the charge defensively for the Tar Heels, recording 14 tackles — 1.5 of which were for a loss — and one quarterback hurry.

When was it decided?

North Carolina looked to be in cruise control after opening up a 17-point lead near the end of the second quarter. But the Yellow Jackets refused to bear down, as Georgia Tech went on to score 14 unanswered points to make it a field goal kick game midway through the third quarter. 

The Yellow Jackets would take the lead early in the fourth quarter — an advantage Georgia Tech never relinquished. 

Why does it matter?

Although the defeat does not impact North Carolina's standing in the postseason — having secured the Coastal Division last week — the loss certainty highlighted a number of issues displayed by the Tar Heels. 

Whether it was Maye’s uncharacteristic inefficiency or Downs dropping a sure touchdown late, the Tar Heels will need to clean up their mistakes as the competition ramps up late.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels close out the regular season at home against N.C. State. Friday’s rivalry contest is set to kickoff at 3:30 p.m. 

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