CHAPEL HILL — CHAPEL HILL -- Down six points with the ball in his hands, T.J. Yates liked North Carolina's chances of beating Georgia Tech.
Yates had hoped for such a scenario after UNC fell six points and 6 yards short of LSU two weeks ago. The senior quarterback got a second chance Saturday at Kenan Stadium against the defending ACC champion, but he couldn't change the ending.
UNC (0-2, 0-1 ACC) lost 30-24 after Yates moved the Tar Heels into Georgia Tech territory on the final drive but short of the end zone.
"It was eerily similar," Yates said.
Just like in the opener, UNC was missing a chunk of its defense, and 12 players in all, because of an NCAA investigation. Just like in the opener, UNC nearly overcame the personnel losses to win a tough game.
After moving UNC's offense down to Georgia Tech's 45-yard-line, Yates shoveled a desperate underhanded toss to Johnny White in a last-ditch effort to keep UNC's hopes alive, but White fell 4 yards short.
Fittingly, Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt melted the final 76 seconds with the ball in his hands. Nesbitt ran for 104 yards and a touchdown and threw for a touchdown.
The Jackets' option offense wore down UNC's depleted defense, noticeably missing star linemen Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin, for 372 rushing yards.
Anthony Allen ran for 113 yards for the Jackets (2-1, 1-0), who rebounded from an embarrassing loss at Kansas, while Orwin Smith added 73 yards, all on one touchdown run in the first quarter.
It was UNC's fourth straight loss in an ACC opener under coach Butch Davis and 10th straight loss in a conference opener overall.
UNC led 7-3, 10-7 and 17-14 in the first half, with Yates throwing for 158 yards in the first two quarters. White, a senior running back, rushed for a career-best 113 yards with a 4-yard touchdown dash at 10:55 in the third quarter to give UNC a 24-17 lead.
In the opener, UNC trailed 30-10 at the start of the fourth quarter before losing 30-24. Neither loss, even under the circumstances, makes Davis feel any better.
"They are all frustrating," Davis said.
Tech's defense created two turnovers in the second half to score the game's final 13 points. Up 24-17 in the third, Yates' fumbled after bumping into running back Davon Ramsey on his own 44-yard line.
Nesbitt connected with Roddy Jones on a critical 41-yard pass play to set up his own 1-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 24 with 1:59 left in the third quarter.
Tech forced a UNC punt and got the ball back, and Blair hit a 46-yard field goal, the longest of his career, to make it 27-24.
UNC gave the ball right back after Blair's field goal. Yates hit tight end Zack Pianalto for an 11-yard gain, but safety Isaiah Johnson stripped the ball from Pianalto's grasp.
"He made a good play, I made a bad play," said Pianalto, who finished with a team-best seven catches for 62 yards.
Tech got the ball back on UNC's 45-yard-line to set Blair up for another 37-yard field goal to go ahead 30-24 with 6:28 left.
By holding the Jackets to a field goal, the tired UNC defense gave the offense one last shot. The Heels picked up three first downs, one after Yates found Erik Highsmith on fourth-and-2, and got down to the Tech 45-yard-line.
On second down, Yates was flushed out of the pocket and was popped by Ben Anderson and Jeremiah Attaochu.
"I couldn't breathe," Yates said.
He came out for the next play, an incomplete pass by freshman Bryn Renner, and tried to make something happen with White on fourth down.
"We wanted to march down the field and win the game," Yates said. "Georgia Tech's defense wouldn't let us."
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