Virginia Tech forced North Carolina into mistakes and punished the Tar Heels for their missed scoring chances. Now the 16th-ranked Hokies are a win away from returning to the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game.
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Tyrod Taylor hit Marcus Davis with a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes to help the Hokies beat the Tar Heels 26-10 on Saturday for their eighth straight win.
Taylor threw for 249 yards while the defense locked down the Tar Heels after halftime, helping the Hokies (8-2, 6-0 ACC) improve to 4-0 in Chapel Hill since joining the league in 2004. Chris Hazley added four field goals, including a 52-yarder in the first half, that helped the Hokies while their offense failed to finish drives early.
Virginia Tech entered Saturday with a chance to wrap up the ACC’s Coastal Division title for the fourth time in six seasons, but Miami’s easy win at Georgia Tech earlier in the day delayed the Hokies’ coronation. Virginia Tech travels to Miami next weekend and needs to win either of its final two games to reach the league title game in Charlotte on Dec. 4.
The Hokies, who opened the season with losses to Boise State and James Madison, have won five of their six league games by at least 11 points.
”I think we’re playing at a high level right now, and as long as we continue to play it, I think people will eventually respect us,” Taylor said. ”Some people don’t and some people won’t, but all we’ve got to do is go out there and win games every week.”
Virginia Tech trailed 10-9 at halftime after Hazley kicked three field goals, two when drives stalled after reaching the UNC 15 and 8. But Taylor found Davis for a 43-yard gain on the opening drive of the second half, then connected with him again for the go-ahead 11-yard score with 10:38 left in the period.
Taylor threw another touchdown to Davis later in the period, with Davis slipping behind defenders Deunta Williams and Kendric Burney for a 13-yard score that made it 26-10
The touchdown capped a dominant third quarter for the Hokies, who outgained the Tar Heels 141-19.
”We just came out and played harder,” Davis said. ”We just told ourselves we weren’t going to let it slip away.”
The Tar Heels (6-4, 3-3) also entered the day with slim chances of winning the division. Now they’ll have to focus on cleaning up all the mistakes – and there were plenty – before trying to end a three-game skid against rival North Carolina State next weekend.
North Carolina committed a season-high six turnovers, with T.J. Yates throwing four interceptions a week after setting a school record with 439 yards passing in the program’s first win at Florida State.
”Things just kind of started piling up on top of each other,” Yates said. ”Besides the turnovers, we didn’t do a good job of converting when we had opportunities. We missed some shots downfield and then on top of that, we just didn’t play good as a football team.”
One of Yates’ picks came when receiver Erik Highsmith and safety Eddie Whitley both appeared to come down with the ball in the end zone midway through the second quarter. That came just a few plays after Yates overthrew a wide-open Dwight Jones deep over the middle for what could’ve been an easy touchdown, and it seemed to shift momentum considering the Tar Heels were ahead 10-6.
”That’s battling, just battling for the ball,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. ”I think that was a key, key play in the ball game. I said, ‘That’s the one we need right there,’ and I think it turned out that way.”
The Tar Heels began with an impressive 80-yard drive capped by Anthony Elzy leaping over the line and into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown, but they never made it back there again.
The Tar Heels settled for a field goal after driving to the 2 in the second quarter, then Elzy fumbled when he took a big hit near the goal line as the Tar Heels tried to make it a one-possession game midway through the fourth.
Elzy, pressed into duty after leading rusher Johnny White went down last week with a broken collarbone, ran for 82 yards and had seven catches for a career-high 102 yards receiving.
Da’Norris Searcy also muffed a punt return when he slipped to the turf while trying to catch the bouncing ball, which grazed off his fingertips and was recovered by Alonzo Tweedy at the Tar Heels 29. Taylor found Davis for his second touchdown five plays later to blow the game open.
”When you play a team like Virginia Tech, you can’t make mistakes,” Burney said. ”We definitely didn’t play well at all tonight and we’ve just got to fix things going into next week.”