UNC comes back from 21 down, stuns Georgia Tech 38-31

North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams (12) scores a touchdown on a 7-yard run in the second quarter against Georgia Tech.
North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams (12) scores a touchdown on a 7-yard run in the second quarter against Georgia Tech. rwillett@newsobserver.com

North Carolina’s Atlanta misery ended Saturday amid most improbable circumstances, after the Tar Heels trailed by 21 points late in the first half, and after they appeared beaten, again, here at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

But that misery ended, indeed, after a memorable comeback that left UNC with a 38-31 victory against Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels had lost eight consecutive games here, and they left with one of the most important victories of Larry Fedora’s coaching tenure.

The Yellow Jackets scored touchdowns on their first three drives and led 21-0 with 4 1/2 minutes to play in the second quarter. From there, though, UNC’s defense came up with two critical stops – one on a fourth-and-goal from the 1, one by forcing a fumble – that helped turn the game.

Turning point

North Carolina defensive lineman Junior Gnonkonde recovered a fumble with about 11 1/2 minutes to play and, moments later, UNC capitalized on a trick play when receiver Quinshad Davis passed to quarterback Marquise Williams for a 37-yard touchdown to give UNC a 31-28 lead. That touchdown completed an improbable rally from 21 points down.

Three who mattered

Marquise Williams: After being benched the week before against Delaware, UNC’s fifth-year senior quarterback passed for 134 yards and ran for 148 more, and two touchdowns, on Saturday. He caught a 37-yard touchdown pass that gave UNC a 31-28 lead in the fourth quarter and later ran for a 27-yard score that put the Tar Heels ahead 38-28 with less than five minutes to play.

Junior Gnonkonde: He committed to Georgia Tech out of high school but the school pulled his scholarship offer week before signing day amid eligibility concerns. He received a measure of revenge with a fourth-quarter fumble recovery that set up UNC’s go-ahead touchdown.

Jeff Schoettmer: UNC’s fifth-year senior middle linebacker was everywhere on Saturday, even amid a rough overall start for the defense. He finished with 10 tackles and was instrumental in the defensive turnaround.

Three key numbers

51 Rushing yards UNC allowed in the second half, after surrendering 204 in the first half.

8 Yards UNC averaged, per play, in the second half until two minutes remained in the fourth quarter.

2 Turnovers the Tar Heels forced in the second half, after forcing none in the first half.

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