by Sean Donohue
(Note: This story is the debut of intern Sean Donohue, a senior at Green Hope High who is the newest writing addition to Triangle Offense.)
KENAN STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL—As UNC struggles to remain on its feet from the loss at LSU on Sept. 4 and the absence of 13 starters because of the NCAA investigations, things seem to be starting to pick up for the Heels.
On a 77-degree day, the clear “Carolina blue” sky matches the adorned Kenan stadium as fans pack in to witness what could be quite a close game. Seems today will partly be a battle of star quarterbacks. UNC's T.J. Yates leads the nation in passing yards per game as well as an ACC best of 32 career starts. Georgia Tech's Josh Nesbitt has already rushed for five touchdowns this season and carried his team to a 1-1 standing so far.
Though Georgia Tech lost to Kansas last week, the team still ranks second nationally in rushing offense (331.5 ypg.), so Carolina's defense will have quite the challenge.
It’s a hard-hitting, back-and-forth game, but in the end the Yellow Jackets prevail 30-24 to drop the Tar Heels to 0-2 in their ACC opener.
Carolina starts off the game early with a 15-play, 73-yard drive to a field goal by Casey Barth. Tech retaliates with a 73 yard carry by Orwin Smith to the end zone. Scott Blair adds the extra point and Tech leads 7-3. However,
Carolina doesn't give up that easily. During a five-play drive, Yates connects on a 52-yard bomb to Eric Highsmith for the touchdown. The kick is good, leaving UNC ahead 10-7.
The crowd roars as Carolina's Yates leads the team down field. The stadium nearly shudders from the light blue sea of fans on this Saturday afternoon. The stadium is packed, to say the least, and the crowd buzzes with excitement.
The blotch of faithful Yellow Jacket fans can be seen in the far corner of Kenan Stadium, though their cheers are more than drowned out by the Tar Heels. As the game continues, the pandemonium in the stands seems to grow.
The Yellow Jackets strike back with a five-play, 62-yard drive to the end zone, the first passing touchdown for Tech. Jones catches Nesbitt’s aerial, and Blair’s boot makes it 14-10.
The teams have a combined 300 yards offense in the first quarter. Carolina then takes the lead early in the second on a 13-play, 80-yard drive with Yates keeping for the score and Barth adding the kick.
The Tar Heels’ defense is slowing down the Yellow Jackets’ running game, and after a 20-play, 87-yard drive the Jackets settle for a Blair field goal.
Tech turns the ball over early in the third quarter, with Ebele Okakpu recovering for Carolina. It takes just 59 seconds for the Tar Heels to score, with Johnny White going in for the touchdown and a 24-17 lead.
But the Jackets take advantage of a Yates fumble and Nesbitt ends the drive with a one-yard rush to the end zone. Blair boots and it’s 24-24.
The Jackets then control fourth quarter. At 12:19, Scott Blair’s field goal completes a seven-play, 44-yard drive. And following another Tar Heel fumble, Tech goes 44 yards in 10 plays to set up one more Blair field goal.
Anthony Allen leads Georgia Tech’s rushing attack with 115 yards on 20 carries.
They said it …
UNC Quarterback T.J. Yates: “We know playing a team like this we are going to get two or three less possessions than a normal game. We've got to make every single one count, which is why those two turnovers (hurt). The defense did a good job getting us the ball back.”
UNC Head Coach Butch Davis: “There's nobody in our locker room and nobody in our football program that hates losing any worse than our coaches and our kids. But you've got to look for some of the positive things. I thought offensively we got off to an outstanding start, we moved the ball, we scored points. We capitalized on some big-play opportunities. Given the set of the things that you're dealing with I thought that we did a good job. Certainly I would have loved to have won the football game, but I can promise you tomorrow we're going to go back to work and we're going to work to try to get victory No. 1.”
Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson: “Anytime you win I'm happy. It's hard to win. Anybody that takes winning for granted isn't very smart because it's hard to win. I don't think in my three years here we've ever had any easy wins. They're all hard. It wasn't always pretty, and we made some bad mistakes. I'm proud of my guys for competing. They played hard and they played like they wanted to win.”
What does it all mean?
That Georgia Tech's rushing game truly does deserve the its No. 2 ranking, UNC has much to work with. But the Tar Heels’ new starters have talent and heart with a chance at a bright future.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Smith’s 73-yard touchdown run.
Tech leads 25-18-3.
UNC: Lost 4.
Georgia Tech: Won 1.
UNC at Rutgers, Sept. 25, TBA
N.C. State at Georgia Tech, Sept. 25, TBA