'Wild, Hectic' Finish

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Virginia appeared on the verge of taking a commanding lead over North Carolina with less than seven minutes to play on Saturday. The Tar Heels rallied with game-changing plays in all three phases to notch their first road win of the season.

6:57 to play.

Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert’s 18-yard completion to Darius Jennings for a first down at UNC’s 32-yard line may have started the ball rolling toward UNC’s third ACC loss in four games and a 3-5 overall record. The Cavaliers were inching toward field goal range with a methodical run-heavy offensive game plan and a 27-21 lead.

Two plays later, backup defensive tackle Nazair Jones reversed the game’s momentum with an interception on a screen pass and a 20-yard rumble down to Virginia’s 38.

“I’ve never caught a pick a day in my life,” Jones said following UNC's 28-27 victory. “I knew it was going to be a big play. I’m just glad I held on to the ball.”

6:09 to play.

UNC’s offense, which had stalled out for most of the day outside of three lengthy touchdown plays (52, 57, 63), failed to pick up yardage on the ensuing first and second downs. On 3rd-and-10, Marquise Williams connected with Ryan Switzer on a corner route for 27 yards.

On 2nd-and-5 from Virginia’s six-yard line, Williams was sacked for a 10-yard loss and had his helmet knocked off by defensive end Eli Harold. By rule, UNC’s standout quarterback had to leave the field for the biggest play of the game – 3rd-and-15 from the 16, trailing by six points.

There was an easy fix available, however. A UNC timeout would have allowed Williams to return for the third down play. UNC head coach Larry Fedora considered that course of action, but elected not to call a timeout because he was confident backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky could make a play.

Enter Trubisky. On his first snap of the game, the redshirt freshman took the snap and found T.J. Thorpe open over the middle on a dig route for a 16-yard touchdown pass and a 28-27 lead.

“It was a great play by him,” Fedora said. “He executed. He never blinked.”

Trubisky didn’t have time to blink.

“To be honest, I really wasn’t thinking much,” Trubisky said. “I saw Quise’s helmet come off and I just knew I had to be ready. It was so short notice that there really wasn’t much time to think about it. I just went in, got the play, executed and it turned out in our favor. I’m really proud of our guys up front.”

4:05 to play.

Virginia’s kickoff return team had been turning its back on its front line all afternoon and Ron West, UNC’s kickoff coverage team coach, knew an onsides kick was available.

“I told them if I call the thing, it’s got to work,” Fedora said. “… It worked. If not, you would be crucifying me right now.”

The Tar Heel defense had already been on the field for 84 plays and over 37 minutes, and while that group had stood strong in the second half, taking the ball out of the Cavaliers’ hands offered a greater reward than risk.

“If we kick that onsides kick, it has to be 100 percent,” special teams standout Mack Hollins said. “If we didn’t get that, we would never call it probably again in Fedora’s career, honestly.”

Nick Weiler dropped the kick into the ideal spot and Hollins secured the ball just across the 10-yard threshold.

“In order to block us, they had to drop back so fast, so we just took advantage of that,” Hollins said. “They had their backs turned when Nick was kicking the ball and by the time they turned around, we already had the ball.”

Williams went back to work, grinding out a pair of first downs before encountering a 4th-and-2 at Virginia’s 21-yard line.

1:17 to play.

Fedora trotted out his field goal team – despite Weiler missing on his two previous attempts – in an attempt to push UNC’s lead to 31-27. The kick never happened as 12 men took the field after a timeout for the Cavaliers. First down North Carolina.

Ball game over.


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