BLACKSBURG, Va. — As sophomore Casey Barth's 21-yard, winning field goal flew through the uprights as time ran out Thursday night, North Carolina tailback Shaun Draughn's first thought was: "Finally."
Finally -- redemption after an 18-point meltdown at Florida State last week.
Finally -- a first ACC victory this season, 20-17 at No. 14 Virginia Tech.
Finally -- a shot for the Tar Heels to still make the postseason, if they can continue playing as they did at Lane Stadium.
"This could be a turnaround for the rest of the season, to kind of jump-start us this last stretch of games where we're going to be playing some tough ACC opponents throughout,'' said quarterback T.J. Yates, who completed 18 of 28 passes for 131 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. "This could set the stage for the rest of the season."
It needs to. With four games left, UNC (5-3, 1-3 ACC) must now win two games to become bowl eligible. It's a steep challenge, considering two -- Boston College and N.C. State -- are on the road; the Heels also face Duke and No. 18 Miami at home.
But after rushing the field after Barth's field goal cleared the uprights -- almost five years to the day since his older brother Connor's 42-yard field goal upset fourth-ranked Miami on October 30, 2004 -- it does seem possible.
The Tar Heels led 7-0 at halftime but found themselves trailing 17-14 after Yates was picked off by the Hokies' Rashad Carmichael early in the fourth quarter, setting up the second of two Tyrod Taylor 1-yard touchdown runs.
With 2:52 left, Barth knotted the score 17-17 on a 19-yard field goal after Yates systematically pushed the team down the field.
Then with 2:02 left, Hokies tailback Ryan Williams' fumble was recovered by UNC's Deunta Williams at the Virginia Tech 24.
"The ball came out, and I almost tripped over it," Deunta Williams said. "So I picked the ball up, everything parted like the red sea. I started running, but someone grabbed me from behind."
Even so, it helped set up Barth's 21-yarder, the first winner he said he has ever kicked.
"I just thanked Ryan Houston, for helping me get so close," Barth said of the backup tailback who rushed 18 times for 66 yards.
Leading 7-0 at halftime, UNC gave up an 82-yard scoring drive on Virginia Tech's first offensive possession, capped by Taylor's first 1-yard touchdown reach. That knotted the score 7-7 -- and for a moment, it seemed like shades of last week, when the Tar Heels' defense held Florida State to 100 yards in the first half, only to give up 338 in the second.
Carolina's offense seemed to slam the door of that déjà vu, at first, scoring on its next possession when Yates found Little for a 15-yard touchdown pass. (The big play on the drive was a 44-yard run by tailback Shaun Draughn).
Matt "We got a test last week and didn't do as well with last week's test as we'd like to do," UNC coach Butch Davis said. "Life's funny. It gives you the same test again, somewhere down the line. I thought our kids today, they rose up. They proved something to themselves: If you don't give up on yourself, you always have a chance."
NORTH CAROLINA 20, NO. 14 VIRGINIA TECH 17
NC--Boyd 13 pass from Yates (Barth kick), 2:44.
VT--T.Taylor 1 run (Waldron kick), 6:44. NC--Little 15 pass from Yates (Barth kick), 1:51.
VT--FG Waldron 36, 13:27. VT--T.Taylor 1 run (Waldron kick), 11:51. NC--FG Barth 19, 2:52. NC--FG Barth 21, :00.
Att.--66,233 (at VirginiaTech).
|Time of Possession||36:14||23:46|
RUSHING--North Carolina, Draughn 12-77, Houston 18-66, Little 6-38, Boyd 2-10, Team 1-(minus 1), Yates 3-(minus 9). Virginia Tech, R.Williams 23-96, Oglesby 1-7, T.Taylor 9-(minus 8).
PASSING--North Carolina, Yates 18-28-1-131, Highsmith 0-1-0-0. Virginia Tech, T.Taylor 11-23-0-161.
RECEIVING--North Carolina, Pianalto 6-34, Little 4-58, Highsmith 3-9, Boyd 1-13, Barham 1-7, Ramsay 1-6, Draughn 1-5, Elzy 1-(minus 1). Virginia Tech, Roberts 5-73, Boykin 2-36, Boyce 2-34, Coale 1-16, R.Williams 1-2.
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