North Carolina had it.
The Tar Heels led for the entire second half until the final 19 seconds when Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis threw a one-yard touchdown pass to his tight end Dalton Keene.
The touchdown put the Hokies up by three points, sending their sideline into a frenzy.
It was a drive that started at the Hokies’ own two-yard line. UNC sophomore running back Michael Carter fumbled at the goal line, just inches from touchdown, and Virginia Tech recovered. Six points would have put UNC up by two possessions with a little more than six minutes left to play.
But instead, the Hokies drove it down field and won on the final touchdown 22-19. UNC is now 1-4 on the season before its road game at Syracuse next week.
True freshman Cade Fortin, who made his first career start Saturday, was knocked out of the game at halftime. He finished 10-18 for 97 yards, and had 57 rushing yards.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Tar Heels left too many points on the board
UNC had 522 yards, seven redzone trips and only 19 points to show for it. The Tar Heels made it to the 26-yard line nine times and only scored one touchdown. It seemed as if every time they got close to scoring, they made a mistake.
There were at least five examples of this:
- On its second drive, UNC moved the ball to the Virginia Tech 12-yard-line. On 2nd-and-8, a bad snap flew past junior quarterback Nathan Elliott. Running back Antonio Williams dived on it and UNC lost six yards. The drive stalled and UNC was forced to kick a field goal.
- On UNC’s fourth drive of the game, with the ball inside the 10, Carter ran it for a touchdown, but it was called back because of a holding penalty. The penalty pushed UNC back to the Virginia Tech 16 yard line and UNC was forced to kick a field goal.
- In the second quarter on UNC’s sixth drive, Fortin found a wide open Dazz Newsome for what would have been a long touchdown. But Newsome dropped the ball. Five plays later, Fortin had Newsome open again, but overthrew him. UNC was forced to punt.
- In the third quarter, UNC had the ball at the Virginia Tech 17 and Elliott was in the game. He had Anthony Ratliff-Williams wide open in the endzone. There was no defender anywhere around him, but Elliott slightly overthrew Ratliff-Williams. UNC was forced to settle for a field goal and missed it.
- And then the final Carter fumble from the Virginia Tech two yard line.
“Any time you get in the redzone and you don’t score, it’s like ‘ahh ok.’ But it happened a lot,” Carter said. “You said nine times? Yeah, we’ve got to be better.”
2. Cade Fortin’s status uncertain
The lights did not appear too bright for the true freshman quarterback. Fortin ran the ball well early in the game, including a 44-yard rush. He passed effectively in the second quarter too.
But he was knocked out of the game at the end of the second quarter after taking a big hit as he tried to rush for a touchdown. In the second half he came back from the locker room without his pads. Before he was injured in the second quarter though, UNC led Virginia Tech 9-7. After the game, UNC coach Larry Fedora said he was unsure of Fortin’s status
“I thought the kid came in and did some really good things in the game,” Fedora said. “There were probably a couple of throws that he would like to have back, but he made some really good throws also.”
“I thought he was very poised. There were not too many times where I thought he was worried about the rush. I thought he really did a good job taking care of the football when the threw the ball, and threw where it was supposed to go.”
When asked whether he thought Fortin had solidified a starting role, Fedora said he would have to evaluate the film first.
3. When UNC runs the football good things happen
The Tar Heels are at their best when they are running the football. But all of that will be overshadowed by the fumble and the loss that should not have happened.
Carter, despite his fumble, had 168 yards on 18 carries. Fortin added 57 yards, and Antonio Williams had 27 yards on seven carries. As a team, the Tar Heels had 235 yards on the ground.
They kept the defense off balance, and that allowed the quarterbacks to make throws down field. UNC was able to move the ball down field with ease. If not for the mistakes when it got into the redzone, UNC could have put up a lot of points.
4. Defense was good.
With the exception of the final drive — a 18-play, 98-yard drive — UNC’s defense had probably its best performance of the season.
Having Myles Dorn back definitely helped. He was all over the field early on, including a big hit that led to an interception in the first half. Aaron Crawford was back too, although he played sparingly.
But Malik Carney was also starting. Carney, who has been UNC’s best defensive player this season, was supposed to miss the Virginia Tech game due to his suspension, but the NCAA allowed UNC to stagger his suspension because two defensive linemen were unavailable.
UNC had four sacks — two by Carney — and nine tackles for loss in the game. It also forced two turnovers. The Hokies had 375 yards for the game.
Carney said none of that mattered though. He said he would have much rather gotten the victory.
“Ultimately, what we’re looking for is to win,” Carney said.
5. Kelly Bryant in attendance
Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant was at the game on a visit. Bryant came down to the field a few minutes before kickoff. He took pictures with fans.
UNC’s student section yelled, “We want Kelly!”
Bryant, who is 6-3, 225 pounds, decided to transfer from Clemson last month after Clemson coach Dabo Swinney announced he was starting his true freshman Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. Bryant helped lead the Tigers to the Sugar Bowl in 2017 before losing to eventual national champions Alabama.
Bryant is said to be visiting UNC and Arkansas. He will have one more year of eligibility left.