Hokies season ripped away
The Orange Effect was the theme on Thursday, so Virginia Tech’s players wore orange jerseys instead of their typical home maroon. It was part marketing move, part subliminal symbolism.
Although the No. 14 Hokies might have been out of the national title conversation, they still entered the night with an outside chance to win their third consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championship and to make the accompanying trip to the Orange Bowl.
But on a crisp night here, Virginia Tech’s conference title hopes seemed to evaporate with a 20-17 loss to North Carolina in front of a sold-out crowd of 66,233 at Lane Stadium.
The Tar Heels won the game with a 21-yard field goal by Casey Barth as time expired.
Hokies running back Ryan Williams fumbled with 2 minutes 2 seconds to give North Carolina possession on Virginia Tech’s 24-yard line. The Tar Heels drained the clock before Barth connected on the game-ending kick.
While North Carolina players stormed the field and celebrated, Williams lingered on the bench as he was consoled by injured running backs Darren Evans and Kenny Lewis.
“As of right now, there probably isn’t anything you can do to lift me up,” Williams said after rushing for 96 yards on 23 carries. “Regardless of what we say, I feel personally I took the game away from us today. It was on the line, it was in my hands, and I fumbled.”
With the loss to the Tar Heels (5-3, 1-3), Virginia Tech is left wondering what happened to its season. The Hokies (5-3, 3-2) are in the middle of the Coastal Division standings and appear fast-tracked for a second-tier bowl game.
“I firmly believe we’re a good football team,” Coach Frank Beamer said. “The problem we’ve got is we’re not consistently good offensive, defensively and on special teams. But particularly offensively and defensively, we haven’t reached that consistently good.”
In the first half, Virginia Tech’s offense had little success as it repeatedly tried to throw into North Carolina’s lockdown secondary. In the second half, Virginia Tech’s defense could not stop a Tar Heels offense that ranked 114th nationally before Thursday.
Quarterback T.J. Yates showed poise leading second-half scoring drives of 84 and 78 yards. He threw for 131 yards and two touchdowns, completing 18 of 28 passes. His lone interception seemed to swing the game.
After Matt Waldron kicked a 36-yard field goal to give Virginia Tech a 14-10 lead with 13 minutes 27 seconds remaining, Yates threw a costly interception that set up a Hokies touchdown.
Tackle Cordarrow Thompson broke through the Tar Heels’ offensive line and wrapped Yates. In an attempt to avoid the sack, Yates flipped the ball toward a receiver but found cornerback Rashad Carmichael awaiting the pass.
The Hokies got the ball at North Carolina’s 5-yard line. On third down, quarterback Tyrod Taylor scored on a 1-yard option keeper to give the Hokies a 17-14 lead.
Indeed, the lead was not safe because of Virginia Tech’s defensive struggles on Thursday. North Carolina converted 10 of 19 third downs and controlled the clock for 36 minutes 14 seconds.
And with Williams running the ball, the game after that late tying score, the game seemed bound for overtime. But soon all excitement exited Blacksburg.
Williams fumbled for the first time this season while carrying the football. On third down, Tydreke Powell stripped Williams as he ran through the line of scrimmage. Deunta Williams recovered the fumble at Virginia Tech’s 24-yard line. North Carolina ran six plays and bled the clock before setting up Barth’s kick from the 20-yard line.
Even though the Hokies had aspirations of an ACC title game appearance and maybe another Orange Bowl, their once promising season had been ripped right from their hands on Thursday night.
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