College Football: Virginia Tech 20, UNC 17
By Bret Strelow
CHAPEL HILL ó Redshirt freshman Mike Paulus, sent in to replace injured starter T.J. Yates, took his first snap against Virginia Tech and handed off to Greg Little.
Little’s long touchdown run padded North Carolina’s second-half lead.
The rest of the game didn’t transpire smoothly for anyone in a UNC uniform.
The Tar Heels allowed Virginia Tech to come from behind and claim a 20-17 victory at Kenan Stadium on Saturday. The Hokies answered Little’s 50-yard score with 17 consecutive points, including Dustin Keys’ tiebreaking field goal with 10:42 remaining.
UNC advanced to Virginia Tech’s 23-yard line on the next possession, but Victor Harris intercepted a Paulus pass at the 2. The Tar Heels were backed up to their own 5 when Paulus threw another pick with 1:17 left.
“When I look back on it, it’s going to eat at me for a long time,” UNC senior linebacker Mark Paschal said. “We had a situation where we had them right there, right on the edge, and we just couldn’t push them over.”
Virginia Tech (3-1, 2-0 ACC) and UNC (2-1, 0-1) were picked to finish first and second, respectively, in the league’s Coastal Division. With an opportunity to post an impressive win and improve to 3-0 for the first time in 11 years, the Tar Heels fell apart in the final 20 minutes.
North Carolina led 10-3 at halftime thanks to a 32-yard touchdown reception by Brandon Tate, who totaled 181 all-purpose yards, and Yates sprained his left ankle while taking a sack midway through the third quarter.
Paulus stepped under center after a Virginia Tech punt, and Little’s touchdown pushed UNC ahead 17-3.
The Hokies scored three times in the next 11 minutes. UNC’s offense ran five plays in that stretch.
“We played so well for the first 30 minutes of the game and played probably so poorly the second 30 minutes of the game,” UNC coach Butch Davis said. “We knew going into the ballgame playing against Virginia Tech is a tight fit. It always is. They’re the type of program that’s not going to give you a lot of easy things.”
Virginia Tech had recorded four first downs in the game when Little broke free with 6:44 left in the third quarter. The Hokies picked up five first downs on the 13-play, 89-yard scoring drive that followed.
The Tar Heels stopped quarterback Tyrod Taylor short of the marker on a third-and-5 carry, and a dead-ball personal foul on linebacker Quan Sturdivant gave the Hokies a first down at UNC’s 20. A third-and-10 pass from that location fell incomplete, but defensive holding supplied Virginia Tech with a new set of downs.
Darren Evans scored on a 10-yard run, and Little fumbled on the second play of UNC’s next possession. Virginia Tech’s Davon Morgan recovered the ball at the Tar Heels’ 30, and Kenny Lewis raced in from the 11. An extra point from Keys tied the game with 13:46 remaining.
North Carolina punted shortly thereafter, and Anthony Elzy’s late hit on the return enabled Virginia Tech to start its go-ahead drive at UNC’s 29.
“I thought the defense played very, very good for a long period of time until they finally got worn out,” Davis said.
Paulus finished 3 of 8 for 23 yards in relief of Yates, who left the stadium on a cart. X-rays on his ankle were negative, and he’ll be re-evaluated today.
Paulus made a brief appearance in UNC’s blowout win against Rutgers on Sept. 11, and the offense moved 39 yards against Virginia Tech’s defense before he overthrew Brooks Foster with the Tar Heels trailing by three.
Harris’ interception spoiled UNC’s best shot to break even or regain the lead.
“I’d say, yeah, I forced it,” Paulus said. “We had a nice drive going, completed a few passes, had a nice couple runs.
“You have to protect the ball. There’s no excuses for it. It’s our ball, not my ball.”