Frank Beamer’s Hokies (3-2, 1-0 ACC), who have been at or near the top of the ACC ever since they were admitted, are 13-0 all-time in conference games played in North Carolina.
But the Tar Heels (3-2, 0-1) are on a pretty good roll. The opposition has been weak to be sure, but they haven’t yet allowed a touchdown at home. And with the Hokies having come back to earth a little bit this season, UNC is actually listed as a 5½-point favorite.
Oddly, there appear to be about 15,000 empty seats at kickoff for the “Carolina White Out” game, in which the home team will be in all white including helmets for the first time in over 40 seasons.
In a track meet of a game, the Tar Heels put on a better offensive show in prevailing 48-34.
But the guys in white respond by ending a streak that’s even dearer to the Hokies. Sean Tapley takes the kickoff at the right hash, heads toward the left sideline and sprints 94 yards for a touchdown, the first time that has happened to the Hokies in 237 games. Casey Barth converts at 12:41.
UNC takes the lead at 4:41 as Bryn Renner chooses to run left from four yards out to finish an eight-play, 59-yard march. Barth’s kick makes it 14-7.
But the Hokies tie it on their next possession, as Thomas finds Marcus Davis behind the defense down the left sideline for a 49-yard scoring pass. Journell ties it with 2:15 left in the quarter.
The Tar Heels take the lead again on the first play of the second period, as on fourth-and-one Gio Bernard sprints off left tackle for 62 yards untouched to the end zone to end a seven-play, 86-yard march. Barth adds the boot.
Tech cuts it to four at the 7:41 mark as Journell’s 40-yard kick completes a 14-play, 52-yard drive.
Back come the Tar Heels on a 10-play, 76-yard drive ending in A.J. Blue’s one-yard plunge. Barth’s kick makes it 28-17 at 4:09.
Journell pulls the Hokies within eight on a 35-yard field goal with 53 seconds left in the half.
The Tar Heels seem to get some breathing room with 7:49 remaining in the third, as Renner hits Tapley from 19 yards out and Barth kicks to make it 35-20.
But Demitri Knowles returns the ensuing kickoff 93 yards to pay dirt, although an incompletion on the two-point conversion leaves the Tar Heels up 35-26.
Barth makes it 38-26 on a field goal with 3:56 left in the quarter.
Blue pretty much puts it away with a 13-yard TD run with 1:19 left in the quarter, the first play after a 51-yard Bernard burst. Barth’s try makes it 45-26.
The Hokies cut it to 45-34 with 8:55 to go on a 66-yard pass from Thomas to Corey Fuller with Thomas hitting Fuller again for the conversion.
Barth chips in a 40-yard field goal with 5:34 to play to finish the scoring.
UNC finishes with an unlikely 533 yards total offense including 339 on the ground. Tech has 394 total yards, but just 40 yards rushing.
Bernard carries 23 times for 262 yards, while Renner completes 17 of 30 passes for 194 yards.
Thomas is 26-for-49 for 354 with a pair of TDs and an interception for the Hokies.
They said it …
UNC coach Larry Fedora: “That was just a great overall effort by our offensive line, our tight ends, our receivers, our running backs, our quarterback and our offensive staff. They just did a tremendous job. We talked about fighting and scratching and clawing for every inch of soil out there, and that’s what they did today.”
Beamer: “We got beat by a team that played really well. I thought we helped them with a kickoff return, but (UNC) did a nice job. We’ve got to continue to build on things we’re doing well and keep on fighting. We can be more consistent than we were today, and that’s what we’re really looking for right now.”
Bernard: “I think we did a good job up front. For the most part, the passing routes weren’t there for me much, but the running routes were definitely there. We did a great job, and all credit goes to the offensive line. They protected me and Bryn tremendously today, and it showed out there.”
Tapley: “The kickoff return was a big play. We were down, so I wanted to make a play and I did. I think it really helped us start getting in a rhythm. After we started making plays and they would get down on themselves, we started to push.”
What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels may be en route to a great season, while the Hokies may not quite be what they used to be.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Tapley’s kickoff return for the TD.
UNC: Won 3.
Va. Tech: Lost 2.
Va. Tech leads 18-11-6.
Va. Tech vs. Duke, Oct. 13, 12:30 p.m.
UNC at Miami, Oct. 13, 2:30 p.m.