The last time the Virginia Tech Hokies faced the North Carolina Tar Heels, in Chapel Hill, both squads were bristling with NFL talent that has since departed for the professional game. This time around VT again sports a transfer at QB, but a young and largely inexperienced defense that has been depleted during the off season. UNC has struggled since the departure of Mitch Trubisky, including the suspension of 13 players to start the 2018 season. Both the Hokies and the Heels are coming back from one-sided losses and looked to collect a critical conference win. Virginia Tech added to North Carolina’s trying season when they survived the Tar Heels, 22-19.
North Carolina received the opening kick-off, but quickly put the ball on the ground which the Hokies were happy to collect. Ryan Willis showed his ability to run, scoring on a 33-yard keeper to put the Hokies up early. The Heels positioned themselves for a field goal off a 49-yard run from Michael Carter. UNC would have had a touchdown, but the effort of the VT defense to run Carter down saved four points. Both teams continued to struggle with ball security. UNC fumbled a snap but was able to recover. Hazelton bobbled a catch that resulted in an interception, and then he also muffed a punt but was able to fall on it. VT allowed another big run when Cade Fortin ripped off a 40-yard run into the Hokies red zone, but the defense again held UNC to a field goal.
The second quarter started with close calls for the Hokies. UNC WR Dazz Newsome broke open deep but bobbled the catch. Newsome again beat Divine Deablo, but the Fortin pass was a bit too much. The Hokies also looked uninspired on offense with a quick three-and-out that saw Willis throw incomplete into triple coverage and then get sacked for ten yards. The Hokies decided that proper tackling was for the dogs and allowed UNC to get more yards after contact than is appropriate. This allowed North Carolina to get in position for YET ANOTHER field goal. The football gods continued to shine their light on the Gobblers and Freeman Jones hooked it, leaving the Hokies to nurse their one-point lead. VT’s seemingly inadvertent bend don’t break on defense worked to hold North Carolina on a 4th and one attempt deep in VT territory, but the inspiration on offense was still lacking and Ryan Willis was sacked for the third time, forcing the Hokie punt squad back onto the field. Virginia Tech was bitten by the trick play when Newsome took a lateral pass play from Fortin and hit tight end Carl Tucker for 43 yards down to the VT seven-yard line. UNC hit their fourth field goal attempt, taking the lead, 7-9 at the half.
Virginia Tech received to start the second half and immediately went three-and-out before the defense allowed a 49-yard Michael Carter rush. This time the Heels scored a TD. In response the Hokie offense found some life when Willis hit Eric Kumah for 33-yards. Quincy Patterson entered the game for a series and the Hokies found their way into the North Carolina red-zone for the first time in approximately six billion years. Hold on, let me check that, yes six billion years. In the words of the great chaotician, Ian Malcolm, “life finds a way,” and Sean Savoy found his way into the end-zone to give the Hokies life, 14-16.
North Carolina seemed unfazed and went back to the Michael Carter well who carried the Tar Heels into the VT red zone with another big run. This time for 29 yards. UNC QB, Nathan Elliott, gave the Hokies two gifts when he missed wide open TDs after the Hokies busted coverage. Freeman Jones missed a 32-yard field goal. Better lucky than good at this point. VT found their way deep into UNC territory, but their efforts were derailed when Willis hit a Tar Heel defender in stride. UNC’s offense drove down the field, but the Hokies AGAIN held in the red-zone to force a field goal attempt. Jones made his sixth attempt, putting the Heels up 14-19.
Caleb Farley set the Hokies up with nice field position with a 32-yard kickoff return to the VT 34, but it was wasted on another three-and-out effort from the VT offense. Things seemed to be going Virginia Tech’s way when UNC committed three consecutive penalties to back themselves up to their one-inch line. It didn’t matter because Nathan Elliott was able to finally hit one of those deep open receivers. Carl Tucker smoked the Hokies for 80 yards, continuing to demonstrate VT’s problems with big plays. BUT THEN UNC FUMBLED, and the Hokies recovered inside their own five, averting disaster. Backed up against the end-zone Willis and Hazelton finally connected to give VPI breathing room. VT looked efficient, marching down the field when they needed to, but whiffing on big plays. The Hokies faced a fourth and five with 1:38 left in regulation and Willis kept the drive alive with a 12-yard first down run! A nine-yard reception from Kumah put the Hokies inside the UNC red-zone. Willis rushed to the North Carolina one-yard line, which set up the uh… one-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Keene! The two-point conversion to Hazelton was good and the Hokies retook the lead, 22-19, with 19 seconds left! UNC’s final drive ended on a multi-lateral play that saw the ball eventually fumbled out of bounds. Virginia Tech snatched victory in the last 30 seconds of play to improve to 3-0 in ACC play and 4-2 overall!