BLACKSBURG, Va. — North Carolina came 1 yard from turning Virginia Tech’s dominance Thursday night into heartbreak.
But Tar Heels senior Charles Brown recovered an onside kick 9 yards from the line of scrimmage, instead of the required 10, and the Hokies squeaked out a 24-21 victory that seemed certain for most of the second half.
“That wasn’t real clean, but it was a win, and that’s the important thing,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “There’s something in being able to hang on and win the close ones.”
Tech’s offense used a methodical approach to slowly grind the Tar Heels into the ground on senior night in Blacksburg. Quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson ate up yardage at a steady pace, leaving UNC’s speedy defensive line gassed and guessing when the second half rolled around.
Thomas delivered a pinpoint pass to D.J. Coles in the corner of the end zone to cap off one of his most well-rounded performances of the season, giving the Hokies a 24-7 margin late in the third quarter.
With a rematch against Clemson potentially two weeks away, Thomas is showing he’s a more mature player than six weeks ago.
“It was a sour feeling,” he said of the loss to the Tigers. “You never want to get down on yourself, and that’s what I learned. We’re not going to get down on ourselves.”
The Tar Heels had some of that resilience Thursday. UNC quarterback Bryn Renner threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to cut Tech’s lead to 10, but the Tar Heels failed to convert an onside kick.
Renner got the ball back, though, and a 64-yard pass set up a 1-yard touchdown run that made it a one-score game.
After another failed onside kick, the Hokies were able to run down the clock until just 3 seconds were remaining. Renner needed 73 yards in one play for the touchdown, but was unable to complete the comeback.
Walking off the field, the Tar Heels could only lament the opportunities that got away, starting with running back Ryan Houston’s fumble on Virginia Tech’s 5-yard line early in the game.
It was the second fumble on a cold night. The first came on the opening play from scrimmage, as UNC’s Sylvester Williams put a swim move on Andrew Miller and knocked the ball from Thomas‘ hand. That turned into seven points for the Tar Heels — the only seven they’d have for the next 52 minutes.
While the Hokies’ defense grew stronger, the offense was busy wearing out the Tar Heels.
Thomas looked shaky when he put the ball in the air early, but settled down and finished 19 for 32.
The sophomore quarterback may have done his best work with his legs, though. He picked up 32 rushing yards, and singlehandedly kept alive the team’s first touchdown drive.