By R.L. Bynum
How do you let a game slip away? Take an already struggling defense and put them in tough spots with a muff and a fumble.
All of that helped Virginia flip a seven-point deficit into a 21-point lead by late in the third quarter. Although North Carolina wasn’t in quite the hole it faced at Florida State, it was another one that the Tar Heels couldn’t escape.
Virginia scored at least 40 points against a ranked opponent for the first time in 18 years on its way to a 44–41 home victory over No. 15 North Carolina on Saturday night.
“When you can’t stop the run and you can’t consistently run the ball, you’re not going to win many games,” said UNC coach Mack Brown, who is 3-9 all-time against Virginia. “And then you end up not converting on third downs in some situations and have more trouble in the red zone.”
A muffed punt by Toe Groves led to a 1-yard touchdown by Keytaon Thompson to give U.Va. a 27–20 halftime lead. UNC nearly scored late in the first half but a fumbled lateral led the first-half clock to run out deep in Cavaliers territory.
“At the end of the half we wasted a time out on defense that the player called, which we don’t usually have and we didn’t have a timeout in our pocket like we should have,” Brown said.
After Virginia opened the second half with a drive that produced a 2-yard touchdown run by Wayne Taulapapa, a Sam Howell fumble led to a 17-yard scoring pass from quarterback Brennan Armstrong to Tony Poljan to turn what was a 20–13 deficit into a 41–20 lead.
A pair of Dyami Brown touchdown receptions, his second and third of the game, cut UNC’s deficit to 7 points. But the Tar Heels inability to stop Virginia’s ground game made completing the comeback impossible after Brian Delaney’s 35-yard field goal pushed the Cavaliers’ lead to 10 with 4:07 left.
Javonte Williams’ 3-yard touchdown run, his 13th score of the season, cut the lead to 44–41 with 2:51 left. But Virginia put the game away when Thompson ran for five yards on a fake punt to get a first down when North Carolina had to get a stop.
“We were in a position to stop it,” Coach Brown said of the fake punt. “He had the bounce and goes back the other way and we lost our contain on the back side and didn’t tackle him. Good play by them.”
Carolina rolled up 536 total yards of offense, the fourth consecutive game with at least that many yards. That’s the first such streak since at least 1971.
Before Saturday, Howell hadn’t completed a pass longer than 43 yards this season. That changed in the first half, thanks to the Brown brothers and mistakes by Virginia defensive back De’Vante Cross, as Howell threw for a career-high 443 passing yards. It was the third-largest total in program history.
Dyami Brown beat Cross on a 54-yard scoring strike down the left sideline 1:25 into the game and younger brother Khafre Brown beat Cross on a slant pattern, speeding down the left sideline for a 76-yard scoring play early in the second quarter. The latter was the longest touchdown pass in Howell’s career.
Dyami Brown finished with 11 catches for 240 yards, the second-most reception yards in program history. Randy Marriott had 247 against Georgia Tech in 1987.
Virginia needed only 4:30 to answer UNC’s first score, getting a 23-yard touchdown run from Armstrong but Brian Delaney missed the extra-point attempt.
UNC’s Grayson Atkins showed he’s found his rhythm by making a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 30-yard try in the second quarter, although he missed a 52-yard attempt. The second boot tied it after a 71-yard scoring play on a short pass from Armstrong to Shane Simpson.
Armstrong connected with Ra’Shaun Henry on an 18-yard touchdown pass with 7:45 left in the first half to tie the game at 20.
Dyami Brown had touchdown receptions of 10 and 13 yards midway through the second half to cut Virginia’s lead to 41-34 with 13:09 left. That second TD was set up by Jeremiah Gemmel’s interception.
UNC (4–2, 4–2 ACC) tries to rebound at noon Saturday at Duke (2–5, 1–5), which won at home Saturday against Charlotte 53–19.
Virginia 44, No. 15 North Carolina 41
North Carolina 10 10 7 14 — 41
Virginia 13 14 14 3 — 44
1st 13:35 NC – Brown, D 54 yd TD PASS from Howell, S (KICK by Atkins, G), 4-75 1:25 7-0
1st 09:05 VA – Armstrong, B 23 yd TD RUSH (PAT KICK attempt failed), 10-75 4:30 7-6
1st 05:28 NC – Atkins, G 51 yd FG 7-42 3:37 10-6
1st 04:51 VA – Simpson, S 71 yd TD PASS from Armstrong, B (KICK by Delaney, B), 2-75 0:37 10-13
2nd 12:33 NC – Atkins, G 30 yd FG 16-62 7:18 13-13
2nd 10:42 NC – Brown, K 76 yd TD PASS from Howell, S (KICK by Atkins, G), 1-76 0:12 20-13
2nd 07:45 VA – Henry, R 18 yd TD PASS from Armstrong, B (KICK by Delaney, B), 8-75 2:57 20-20
2nd 01:14 VA – Thompson, K 1 yd TD RUSH (KICK by Delaney, B), 3-20 0:42 20-27
3rd 10:01 VA – Taulapapa, W 2 yd TD RUSH (KICK by Delaney, B), 11-75 4:59 20-34
3rd 05:34 VA – Poljan, T 17 yd TD PASS from Armstrong, B (KICK by Delaney, B), 5-30 2:46 20-41
3rd 00:51 NC – Brown, D 10 yd TD PASS from Howell, S (KICK by Atkins, G), 11-75 4:43 27-41
4th 13:09 NC – Brown, D 13 yd TD PASS from Howell, S (KICK by Atkins, G), 6-48 1:46 34-41
4th 04:07 VA – Delaney, B 35 yd FG 15-58 9:02 34-44
4th 02:51 NC – Williams, J 3 yd TD RUSH (KICK by Atkins, G), 4-75 1:16 41-44
Kickoff time: 8:05 PM • End of Game: 11:19 PM • Total elapsed time: 3:14
Officials: Referee: Stuart Mullins; Umpire: Danny Worrell; Linesman: Troy Gray;
Line judge: Richard Misner; Back judge: Keith Parham; Field judge: Wayne Rundell;
Side judge: Jeffrey Shears; Center judge: Adam Savoie;
Temperature: 46 deg F • Wind: • Weather: Clear
Pool photos by Andrew Shurtleff