Elzy Shines

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Something about playing against Virginia Tech brings the best out of Anthony Elzy.

In a losing effort against the Hokies in 2007, Elzy entered the game in the fourth quarter and rushed for 74 yards. The senior running back and an even better outing on Saturday.

"They are such a good team, I think anybody playing the Hokies would be fired up," Elzy told reporters during his postgame press conference.

It took all of 15 minutes for Elzy to set all of his 2010 personal bests, and before the evening was done, he notched his best game ever as a Tar Heel – albeit in a losing effort.

His first run from scrimmage, a gain of 13 yards, was his longest run of the season to that point. On UNC's second play Elzy had a 15-yard catch, his longest reception all season. He had a 20-yard catch to end the first quarter – setting his season high for receiving yards – and then had a 25-yard run on the second play of the second quarter.

Elzy kept it going through the second quarter, and by halftime he had run for 65 yards on 10 carries and caught six passes for 74 yards, leading all receivers at the half.

For 30 minutes, Elzy was once again the Tar Heels' featured tailback, torching the Hokies' defense.

But Elzy was unable to sustain that success into the second half. In the third quarter, he had just one carry for no gain, and had no receptions. The Tar Heels had only 19 yards of total offense.

Elzy was nowhere to be seen.

"[It was] just to give Shaun Draughn an opportunity to get back into the groove, just to get him started," Elzy said.

Head coach Butch Davis echoed that sentiment. "We thought he might give us a little bit of a spark, because Anthony had played so much," Davis said.

Yates attributed the lack of third quarter productivity not to Elzy's absence, but to Tar Heel mistakes.

"We did a lot of things to kind of shoot ourselves in the foot," Yates said. "We got behind the count with penalties, and a number of different things, there was 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long situations, they got a chance to drop back in coverage and kind of tee off on you."

After being MIA in the third quarter, Elzy got back into the fray in the final stanza. He moved the ball down to the 12-yard line on a 28-yard catch-and-run, the longest pass-play of the game for UNC, giving the Tar Heels a brief glimmer of hope. On a fourth-and-one at the three, Elzy converted the first down.

On first and goal from the two-yard line at a crucial juncture of the fourth quarter, Tech linebacker Jerome Winslow hit Elzy as he ran toward the goal line, forcing the ball out of his hands and through the end zone – the fifth UNC turnover of the game.

"Just going over the pile, somebody got their helmet on the ball, and it was the right spot, the ball just game out," Elzy said.

Elzy's fumble was far from being the only cause of the UNC's loss -- four of Yates' interceptions, a botched punt catch by Da'Norris Searcy, and the general ineptitude of the UNC offense in the second half, derailed any hope the Tar Heels had of upsetting the 17th-ranked Hokies.

Up to and including tonight, it has been a long, strange road for Elzy.

In 2007, the first year under Davis, the Tar Heels were simply trying to feel their way toward building a rushing attack. Ryan Houston, a true freshman, had the most carries that day in Blacksburg, but Elzy closed strong.

His high water mark as a tailback came the next game against Miami, a 25-carry, 95-yard performance that led to the upset of the ‘Canes – the first big UNC win of the Butch Davis era.

He seemed destined to become the Tar Heels' first option at tailback after solid back-to-back outings against first-rate competition.

It was not to be.

Later during the 2007 season the Tar Heels converted wide receiver Greg Little to tailback, and Elzy moved to fullback after tumbling further down the depth chart at tailback prior to the start of the 2008 season. He has bounced back and forth between the two spots as necessitated by depth chart additions and subtractions, but has mainly played fullback since the 2007 season (after Draughn's injury last season against Duke, Elzy again got in some reps at tailback, notably at Boston College when he had 8 carries for 25 yards).

Elzy was selected to start at tailback on Saturday because; (1) Johnny White was lost for the season because of a broken clavicle, (2) Shaun Draughn was limited with an ankle sprain, (3) Ryan Houston, held out during the investigation of academic misconduct, is likely to red-shirt after missing the first five games, and (4) true freshman Gio Bernard tore an ACL in fall practice.

Though it came in a losing cause, like many other Tar Heels this season, Elzy unselfishly stepped up to the plate to fill in for missing and injured teammates. The result was a career day against the Hokies - 184 combined yards, leading UNC in rushing and receiving.

"Honestly, (Elzy's performance) fits pretty much into our season's mold," offensive lineman Jon Cooper said. "People stepping up into places they aren't used to, and people just going above and beyond themselves and showing great character and resiliency."

If Elzy had any regrets about how his career has progressed to this point, he kept them to himself.

"I'm just playing my role," he said. "That's what I am here for, to play my role."

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