CHAPEL HILL — In a game full of ineffective plays on Saturday for North Carolina – the vast majority coming on defense and special teams during the Tar Heels’ 68-50 defeat against Georgia Tech – one of the strangest came midway through the third quarter, when the Yellow Jackets held a 44-36 lead.
North Carolina had possession on its own 25-yard line, where it faced a 4th-and-10. Tommy Hibbard, the Tar Heels’ punter, lined up to kick. Hibbard caught the snap, rolled to the right and then tucked the ball and ran. Georgia Tech easily spotted the fake punt, stopped it and took over with enviable field position.
One play later, Robert Godhigh ran down the left sideline for a 27-yard touchdown that gave the Yellow Jackets a 51-36 lead. The Tar Heels never seemed to recover from that sequence. While explaining the fake punt later, UNC coach Larry Fedora said Hibbard had the option between running and kicking.
“Obviously we would have liked him to have punted in that situation,” Fedora said. “ ... If you’re going to run it, you better get a first down. And we just made a bad choice. But again, that’s my responsibility because I’m the one who gave him that choice. And so that’s on me.”
Bernard provides hope – briefly: Before Saturday, the Tar Heels had often been at their best in the third quarter. Even after allowing a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half, it seemed – if only for a moment – that UNC’s third-quarter dominance might continue.
After Georgia Tech’s touchdown, North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner threw a short pass to Giovani Bernard, who spun away from one tackle and broke another before sprinting down the left sideline. Bernard, who received an escort from freshman receiver Quinshad Davis, broke another tackle on his way to a 78-yard touchdown.
The play gave UNC a 41-36 lead.
“I definitely thought it would give us a boost, man,” UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said of the play.
But it didn’t. The Yellow Jackets scored 24 more points in the third quarter.
“To be honest, the offense, they scored a lot of points – they gave us a chance to win the game,” Williams said. “Defensively, we didn’t get it done.”
No time to mourn: After UNC’s most lopsided defeat of the season, Fedora and his players spoke of the importance of moving on quickly. The Tar Heels, who play at Virginia on Thursday night, have little time to dwell on what went wrong against the Yellow Jackets.
“We have a short week, a game Thursday night,” UNC senior offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper said. “So tomorrow we watch Virginia’s film and put this loss behind us and not let it beat us two times.”
Etc … Bernard finished with 78 yards rushing, 92 yards receiving and two touchdowns. He left the game briefly late in the third quarter after suffering an ankle injury, but said afterward that “it will be fine.” Bernard said it was the same ankle he injured in the victory against N.C. State two weeks ago. … The 118 combined points set an ACC record, breaking the previous records of 110 (for a game involving one ACC team) and 106 (for a game between two ACC teams). … Clemson’s 82-24 victory against Wake Forest in 1981 had provided the previous record for combined points in a game between two ACC teams. … UNC’s Renner completed 24 of his 35 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns. … With 708 yards passing in his past two games, he broke a school record he set earlier this season. … UNC’s Davis finished with a career-high 104 yards receiving on seven catches. He caught an 11-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter.