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For the second consecutive week, a freshman tailback delivered in the fourth quarter as Anthony Elzy exploded with 74 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, giving the Tar Heels (1-4, 0-2 ACC) their highest rushing total on the season (124 yards).
"Johnny White got injured early in the game, and [running backs] coach [Ken] Browning told me to be ready," Elzy said. "So mentally I was prepared, and after that, it was just all the line. The linemen did a great job blocking and protecting and I just did my part."
Elzy's touchdown cut the Hokie lead to 17-10 and his 25-yard run in the final four minutes put North Carolina in position to tie the score, but the drive ended on downs at UNC's 46-yard line with 0:46 remaining.
The Tar Heels' defensive performance (241 yards allowed) was its best of the season, holding Branden Ore in check with 93 yards on 19 rushes while containing freshman phenom quarterback Tyrod Taylor (83 total yards).
"It was just attitude today – it was an attitude thing," safety Deunta Williams said. "We all just felt like enough was enough, so we all bowed up. We knew it was going to be a physical game, so we wanted them to match our intensity and not have to match theirs."
But Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0 ACC) won the turnover battle (2-1) and put enough pressure on T.J. Yates (182 yards and one interception on 16 of 25 passing) to limit the UNC offense to 306 total yards.
With a true freshman under center, Virginia Tech's offensive game plan was evident from the start – keep the ball on the ground and force the Tar Heel defense to stop the run. That strategy proved perfect on the Hokies' opening drive as they churned out 70 yards on seven carries, ending with Taylor's five-yard touchdown scramble reminiscent of the Vick brothers.
"He's a great athlete," Williams said. "I think he's going to be the next Michael Vick to come out of Virginia Tech… I think he's going to be a great player – a lot of credit to him."
But despite their initial success in the running game, Virginia Tech quickly deviated from that mentality by only attempting six rushes in the second quarter. That decision allowed the UNC defense to put pressure on Taylor in his ACC debut, and that move proved costly. The Hokie offense only managed 171 yards the rest of the ball game.
North Carolina moved the ball down to the Virginia Tech 29-yard line on their second possession, but failed to convert on a 4th-and-3 despite being inside Connor Barth's field goal range.
Mental mistakes continued to plague the Tar Heels in Blacksburg, as Hilee Taylor's roughing the passer penalty negated a solid Deunta Williams pass breakup on a VT 3rd-and-26, resulting in a first down at the end of the first quarter. Williams would avenge his teammate's error, however, intercepting a Taylor pass in the red zone and returning it 39 yards to the UNC 49-yard line.
Barth eventually connected on a 32-yard field goal to cut the Virginia Tech lead to 7-3. The senior's kick was his 15th consecutive successful field goal attempt, tying the school record – a streak that began at Lane Stadium in 2005.
Virginia Tech's Josh Morgan returned the second half's opening kickoff 34 yards to the UNC 42-yard line, leading to Jud Dunlevy 52-yard field goal. Freshman defensive tackle Marvin Austin effectively ended the Hokie drive with his second sack of the day, knocking Taylor out for the remainder of the series.
Virginia Tech self-destructed on the Tar Heels next possession with two roughing the passer penalties, but UNC could not take advantage as Ryan Houston fumbled at the goal line to kill an opportunity to tie the ball game at 10-10 with 8:05 remaining in the third quarter.
"Beamer Ball" made its first appearance on North Carolina's next offensive possession, as Kenton Thornton could not bring in a Yates' pass, setting up a Xavier Adibi interception return to the UNC 12-yard line. Ore extended the VT lead to 17-3 on a one-yard scoring run.
The Tar Heels were not ready to accept defeat, however, as Yates drove the offense 76 yards on 12 plays for their first touchdown with 5:34 remaining in the game, capped off by Elzy's one-yard plunge.
Virginia Tech has now won 32 straight games when scoring first, while North Carolina dropped its fourth straight contest on the season.