On its way to a 4-1 start in 2016, the No. 17 UNC football team has relied on its highly-explosive offense to make up for a defense that’s struggled to keep opponents off the scoreboard.
Playing in the midst of Hurricane Matthew, however, the Tar Heels couldn’t even light a spark on Saturday—as the No. 25 Virginia Tech Hokies traveled to Kenan Stadium and left with a 34-3 blowout victory in a crucial Coastal Division showdown.
It was the lowest-scoring game UNC has put together since head coach Larry Fedora took over in Chapel Hill prior to the 2012 season. The Tar Heels’ up-tempo attack was rendered lifeless—held to just 131 yards–without the passing threat of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who was held to a meager 58 yards through the air.
Both teams were severely limited by the driving rain and wind gusts topping 20 miles per hour, but UNC’s running game was forced to withstand the absence of junior tailback Elijah Hood, who sat out with a concussion.
Starting in Hood’s place, TJ Logan led the team with 67 yards on 14 carries. However, third-stringer Khris Francis–who took over as the backup–lost a key fumble early in the game.
Virginia Tech wasn’t exactly spectacular on offense, but the Hokies did just enough to take advantage of four untimely UNC turnovers—including Trubisky’s first two interceptions of the season.
“We didn’t do anything running-wise or throwing-wise,” Fedora said after the game. “We couldn’t get into any kind of a rhythm. And so it puts your quarterback at a disadvantage when you put it all on him to throw the ball every time.”
Coming out of halftime down by 10 points, the Tar Heels dug themselves into a deeper hole right away.
Trubisky lost a fumble on the team’s opening drive out of the locker room, which Virginia Tech immediately capitalized on with a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jerod Evans to Sam Rogers.
This forced the Tar Heels into playing from behind—and throwing the ball more often—despite conditions that made that much more difficult. By the end of the game, Trubisky had completed just 13 of his 33 passes.
After using up a few years’ worth of comeback magic in the last couple weeks, it appeared as if UNC simply didn’t have enough gas to do it yet again.
“It was frustrating for everybody,” Fedora said. “I mean, [we] turn it over on the first couple series that [we] have the ball–and go down–and [we] just never recovered.
“We never were able to bounce back from anything.”
Virginia Tech ran the ball on 66 of its 83 offensive plays, as the Tar Heels simply were unable to make stops when they were needed. Despite averaging just over three yards per play, the Hokies held onto the ball for a whopping 40 minutes.
Defensively, the visitors held UNC to just two third-down conversions on 14 tries—which is why Fedora wanted no part of blaming the weather for his team’s struggles.
“It’s hard to blame it on [the weather] because both teams were playing in it,” he said. “I’m not gonna use that as an excuse. We just didn’t play well.”
All in all, it was a day to forget for Fedora and the Tar Heels—which no longer control their own destiny in the ACC Championship race.
Instead they’ll will need to regroup and get ready for a showdown in Miami–which could be considered a must-win game in terms of the Coastal Division standings.
Regardless of what the reasons were behind UNC’s lackluster offensive performance on Saturday, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the Tar Heels will have to fix things up moving forward.
“We didn’t play the way we normally play, at all,” Fedora said. “That’s my responsibility as the head coach is to have them ready to play and have them ready to go—no matter what the conditions are.”
The Tar Heels travel to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami next weekend for a showdown with head coach Mark Richt and the Hurricanes. Miami entered this week undefeated and ranked No. 10 in the nation.
Virginia Tech right guard Augie Conte made headlines earlier this week when he said he felt the UNC football team—ranked No. 17–would overlook the No. 25 Hokies in their top 25 matchup this weekend at Kenan Stadium.
Make no mistake, though, Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora recognizes the threat the Hokies present—especially with the game set to be played in terrible weather brought on by Hurricane Matthew.
In recent years, the Virginia Tech football program began to lose some its luster under legendary coach Frank Beamer.
Once a shoo-in to compete for the ACC Championship each year, the Hokies fell back into the mix as they couldn’t quite put together the offense to go with their dominant defense and special teams.
With Beamer now retired, new head coach Justin Fuente—who arrived from Memphis with a reputation as an offensive guru—has quickly revitalized the team. The Hokies bring a 3-1 record into Saturday with their only loss coming to undefeated Tennessee.
UNC experienced something similar just five years ago when it brought in Fedora to implement his high-flying offense in Chapel Hill. Now the Tar Heels are among the ACC’s top programs.
At practice Wednesday, Fedora even compared Virginia Tech’s star quarterback Jerod Evans to former Tar Heel starter Marquise Williams.
“They’ve got a quarterback like we had with ‘Quise,” Fedora told reporters. “A guy that’s big, can run the football and has got a really strong arm.
Fedora also sees comparisons between Fuente’s offense and his own, saying, “They’re spreading the field, they’re running the ball and I think they’re doing a really good job.”
Not only does Evans–a first-year starter–lead the Hokies in rushing this season, he’s also posted efficient passing numbers that look awfully close to those put up by UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Evans has completed 67 percent of his passes, while throwing 13 touchdowns–the same as Trubisky–and just one interception.
The effect of the quarterbacks could be limited, however, by the weather brought on by the hurricane.
While he fully expects the game to be played despite what Mother Nature has to say about it, Fedora is preparing his team to make changes if needed—whether it be in the passing game or in the kicking game.
“Special teams is big, but if it’s enough wind it affects the throwing game also,” Fedora said. “We try to train no matter what so our guys don’t think about it and don’t worry about it.
“But for me, there’s a lot of decisions that have to be made.”
Windy conditions could force both teams to lean on their rushing attacks more than usual. In this situation, the advantage would certainly go to the Hokies—who could capitalize on the porous Tar Heel run defense.
Fedora expects junior tailback Elijah Hood to play this week after leaving the Florida State game with concussion-like symptoms, while senior TJ Logan is having a breakout year as the backup.
UNC is perfectly capable of winning a game with its running backs, but longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is bound to find a way to complicate things if the Tar Heels are forced to become one-dimensional.
Having to make decisions at the line-of-scrimmage will get that much tougher for Trubisky if that happens.
“He’s a great coach because he always has his guys ready,” Trubisky said about Foster. “They play a little bit different coverage defense than some other teams in the country—and what they do, they do it really well.
“Their guys play hard, they recruit very well so they’ve got great athletes and they’re always in the right position.”
And sure, both teams are ranked and there may be a hurricane impacting the game—but with what Trubisky and the Tar Heels have experienced over the last couple weeks, that shouldn’t mean a thing.
If they have any hopes of repeating as Coastal Division champions, they can’t get caught looking ahead to next week’s game at Miami.
All eyes should be on Virginia Tech.
“Rankings don’t mean anything,” Trubisky said. “That’s just college football. Anybody can beat anybody on any given Saturday.
“We’ve had two crazy games the last two weeks, but we’ve got to put that behind us because we’ve got another big one in Kenan this weekend.”http://chapelboro.com/featured/unc-refuses-to-overlook-virginia-tech-in-top-25-matchup-this-weekend
In a shocking turn of events at Boshamer Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Virginia Tech Hokies ended their 17-game losing streak by scoring three runs in the final two innings against the No. 13 Tar Heels.
Aided by a pair of crucial UNC fielding miscues, the Hokies were able to steal a 4-3 win –preventing what would have been an important weekend sweep.
After taking a 2-1 lead on Tyler Ramirez’s RBI single in the seventh inning, the Tar Heels appeared to be well on their way to another victory. Instead a dropped liner by shortstop Logan Warmoth with one out in the eighth allowed Virginia Tech to tie the game on a safety squeeze the very next at-bat.
Then with the bases loaded in the ninth, UNC second baseman Eli Sutherland misfired trying to turn an inning-ending double play—allowing the Hokies to score two more.
Needless to say, Tar Heel head coach Mike Fox wasn’t pleased.
“You gotta have that clock in your head to come off the bag,” Fox said, referencing the fact that Sutherland’s errant throw likely would not have gotten the second out even if it was on target. “Giving them one is fine, but giving them two obviously turned out to be the killer for us.”
UNC—which fell to 23-9 and 8-7 in ACC play—still had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth despite the late errors.
Ramirez hit a solo home run off reliever Cole Kragel with two outs to make it 4-3, before the Hokies made a dramatic error of their own. Third baseman Sam Fragale put his throw to first in the dirt after Warmoth hit a soft grounder—which then led to a walk by Brandon Riley and Kyle Datres getting hit by a pitch.
Sutherland came to the plate with the bases loaded and the winning run at second, but popped out to foul territory on a 3-2 count after taking three straight balls to begin the at-bat.
“They’re somewhat playing ‘not to lose’ because that’s kinda been the mindset that they’ve been in,” Fox said. “So we thought if it gets a little pressure on ‘em [we had a chance to win.]
“You gotta give [Kragel] credit, man,” Fox added. “He goes 3-0, then comes back and throws three strikes and at least makes us swing. That’s a pretty tough position to be in when your team’s lost that many.”
Ramirez, who led the Tar Heels offensively with his two RBI hits, was one of the few UNC players to have success against Virginia Tech lefty Packy Naughton—who used great command of his 92 mph fastball to limit the Tar Heels to just six hits during his seven innings on the mound.
UNC starter Jason Morgan, on the other hand, walked five batters and hit two more during a shaky stint that saw him pulled with one out in the fifth.
It was just an all-around sluggish performance from the Tar Heels, something Ramirez touched on afterwards.
“It’s extremely frustrating, especially against a team we know we can beat,” Ramirez said. “But we knew they were gonna come out today and compete. They had their best arm throwing and he pitched well, they played well as a team.
“We just couldn’t get it done today.”
Although UNC badly wanted to win Sunday to make up for being swept last weekend, Fox hopes his team will dig deep and find motivation within themselves—or at least from the large crowd expected in their next game–as the schedule tightens up.
Next weekend UNC travels to Charlottesville to take on defending national champion Virginia, but first the Tar Heels will play South Carolina on Tuesday in downtown Charlotte at the new ballpark used by the Charlotte Knights.
“If they’ve got a hangover from [Sunday], then maybe 11,000 people will help them get over it,” Fox said, alluding to the expected attendance for Tuesday. “It’ll be a fun atmosphere. That’s the type of environment you’d like to play in against a very good team.”
First pitch time is set for 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday. The Gamecocks are 28-5 in 2016, which should present a much different challenge than the Hokies–who are now 11-22 (2-13 ACC) with their win over the Tar Heels on Sunday.
On a night windy enough to cancel the postgame fireworks show at Boshamer Stadium, JB Bukauskas made sure fans wouldn’t go home empty-handed.
The hard-throwing sophomore from Ashburn, Virginia struck out a career-high 13 hitters Saturday night in No. 13 UNC’s 4-1 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Bukauskas now has a 5-1 individual record and lifts the Tar Heels to 23-8 (8-6 ACC) in 2016. His performance comes on the heels of Zac Gallen’s complete game masterpiece on Friday–which also included 13 strikeouts.
Unlike Gallen though, Bukauskas only had 7 1/3 innings to reach the mark as his night was ended prematurely.
Virginia Tech shortstop Ryan Tufts broke up Bukauskas’ no-hitter in the sixth with a single, before ending the shutout with a solo homer in the eighth–the only offense registered against the righty all night.
Tufts’ 2-for-3 effort at the plate also represented half of the Hokies’ four hits in the game–but it wasn’t enough to keep his team from losing its 17th straight game and falling to 10-22 (1-13 ACC).
Often labeled as a guy who just rears back and lets his 97 mph fastball do the talking, Bukauskas’ improvement as a pitcher in his second year–he’s allowed more than two runs just twice this season–has largely been attributed to the development of a slider that touches 88 mph and is absolutely filthy.
Gallen–one of the team’s two captains–has also taken Bukauskas on as sort of an apprentice this season.
“He’s become one of my better friends on the team,” Bukauskas said of Gallen. “Just watching him, how he throws that cutter, then works in to his slider sometimes–I took a little note out of his book with that one, throwing it harder.
“We throw bullpens together so we’re always right there with each other–working on things together and learning from each other.”
He then paused before saying, “Well mostly, me [learning] from him, but yeah, I’d say there’s a little competition just because [we’re the Friday, Saturday guys.]”
At one point during the game, from the fourth through sixth innings, Bukauskas recorded nine consecutive outs by picking up strike three. He also retired 12 straight Hokies after walking the first batter of the game.
“That’s hard to do against anybody,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said when reminded of Bukauskas’ achievements. “I was keeping track of it a little just taking notes on what their hitters were doing, but yeah that’s hard to do. He was good tonight, lots of swings and misses.”
Fox paused for a second. “What else can I say?”
UNC freshman catcher Cody Roberts had an RBI single in the fourth inning to open scoring against Virginia Tech starter Jon Woodcock–before a sacrifice fly from shortstop Logan Warmoth doubled that lead in the fifth.
Eli Sutherland finally ended the night for Woodcock in the seventh with a two-run single hit hard to right field, but the Hokies made it interesting once Bukauskas was done for the night.
With the bases loaded and just one out following Tufts’ eighth-inning homer, Tar Heel reliever Brett Daniels forced an inning-ending double play to escape the jam.
After Daniels allowed back-to-back singles to start the ninth, UNC turned to junior AJ Bogucki to pick up the save. Bogucki then recorded a fielder’s choice before ending the game with back-to-back strikeouts.
It was an important win for UNC because it clinches a series win in the tough ACC–however with the way the Hokies are floundering, and given that the Tar Heels were swept last weekend at Miami, Fox sees Sunday’s game as just as important.
“When you get swept in this league, you gotta try to get a sweep–if nothing else to offset it,” the coach said. “I know we had one on the road against Duke but it’d be nice to get another one because it’s only gonna get tougher from here–or so they tell me.”
The series finale is set to begin Sunday at 1 p.m.
Each Friday night during this college baseball season UNC fans are treated to what’s known around Boshamer Stadium as “Gallentine’s Day”–the chance to see junior starting pitcher Zac Gallen work his magic.
This particular Friday, Gallen–who has now officially embraced being called “The Milkman”–decided to take it up a notch.
The Gibbsboro, New Jersey native delivered perhaps the best performance of his career against Virginia Tech, throwing all nine innings in the No. 13 Tar Heels’ 6-0 victory over the Hokies at the Bosh.
In doing so, Gallen gave up just four hits and struck out a career-high 13 batters–the first UNC pitcher to do so since current New York Mets All-Star Matt Harvey, now referred to by some as “The Dark Knight,” fanned 15 Clemson Tigers back in 2010.
Coming off a huge upset loss on Wednesday to UNC-Asheville, the Tar Heels got the boost they needed to avoid losing to a Virginia Tech squad that has lost 16 games in a row and boasts a record of just 10-21 (1-12 ACC).
UNC jumps to 22-8 with the victory, and goes back above .500 in the ACC standings at 7-6 in league play.
Gallen–known for his ability to keep the ball in the strike zone–threw strikes on an astonishing 80 of his 118 pitches in the game. The righty also picked up his fourth win of the season (4-2) after running into some tough luck over the last two weekends against Georgia Tech and Miami, teams that UNC went a combined 1-5 against–including his only two losses of the year.
“That’s something [UNC sophomore pitcher] JB [Bukauskas] and I were talking about in the outfield the other day at practice,” Gallen said after the game. “He was just like, ‘Hey man everything feeds off of you.’
“So that’s just kinda my job on Friday night is to set the tone and leave the door open for those next two guys that are gonna throw [Saturday and Sunday].”
Helping Gallen’s cause offensively for the Tar Heels was freshman infielder Kyle Datres.
Benched against UNC-Asheville on Wednesday due to his struggling bat, Datres was put back into the lineup as the designated hitter–the first time he’d occupied that role in his college career.
He responded by going 2-for-3 with a home run–another career first–and two RBIs.
Sophomore Brian Miller drove in UNC’s first run of the game with an RBI single in the third, but Datres’ solo shot in the fourth is what pumped energy into the crowd.
“It felt really good,” Datres said. “I was in a little slump there, took a couple games off. Been working on my swing the last couple weeks, so to get that out of the way means a lot.”
Datres’ RBI single in the bottom of the sixth gave Gallen a 3-0 lead, which would prove to be plenty of cushion.
UNC didn’t let up on the gas though, as it doubled that advantage with a three-run eighth–highlighted by Zack Gahagan’s two-run single, which he drilled into right field.
Gallen came back out for the ninth to a large ovation, but put his complete game hopes in jeopardy by allowing a single to the lead-off man.
Had he not struck out the next three hitters, UNC head coach Mike Fox said he was ready to make a change given Gallen’s high pitch count.
“These guys are going six days of rest between starts,” Fox said. “I don’t know exactly how much he threw last Friday, but that was probably his last batter [tonight].”
The coach then smiled. “But I won’t tell him that.”
Instead the junior finished off his first complete game of the season, and second of his career. This type of performance has become the norm for Gallen, who has started to make his name well-known in Chapel Hill.
The next step?
Making that nickname,”The Milkman,” stick.
“It’s fine by me,” he said of the moniker. “A nickname, it’s an honor, especially when you play at a place like this.”
UNC will see the Hokies again on Saturday night, with first pitch set for 6 p.m.
With all the snow and ice covering the East Coast, you can’t blame the No. 2 UNC men’s basketball team for thinking this game against Virginia Tech was some sort of vacation.
The Tar Heels came into Cassell Coliseum on Sunday riding a 10-game win streak–then opened up a 20-point lead on the Hokies in the first half.
But after a furious Virginia Tech rally, the Tar Heels were forced to hang on for a narrow 75-70 victory.
It was a comeback that quickly reminded Roy Williams’ team that they were, in fact, on a business trip.
“We started thinking it was gonna be easy,” the UNC head coach said after the game. “And I also took out Brice [Johnson]. I took out Kennedy [Meeks]. Isaiah [Hicks] was out. So three of our top six guys were out because they had two fouls.
“I’ve said all year long, our depth has got to be important to us, and I think it was,” he added.
Johnson, the Tar Heels’ best player as of late, added to his ACC Player of the Year resume with 19 points and 17 rebounds. He also made a significant impact on the defensive end–chipping in four steals and three blocks to help put away the upset-minded Hokies.
UNC is now 18-2 this season (7-0 ACC), but has not played the prettiest basketball over its past three games.
Joel Berry was the only Tar Heel to join Johnson in double figures–scoring 13, despite making just three of his 11 shots.
The struggles also continued for Marcus Paige.
Paige, the senior guard who came into Sunday shooting a combined 3-for-25 from the field with eight points over the past three games, finished with just seven points and made just two of his 10 shots. He did contribute seven assists, however, and hit a pair of critical free throws down the stretch.
“I know there’s frustration,” Williams said of Paige. “I don’t think it’s pressure. He and I talk, so I don’t think he’s pressing or anything. I think he’s extremely frustrated, which, I think he should be extremely frustrated.
“If I had made three of my last 25,” the coach continued. “Hell, I’d be hesitant too.”
As a team, the Tar Heels connected on just three of their 23 attempts from three-point range on Sunday–and made just 37.8 percent of their field goals.
The foul trouble that hampered UNC’s big men early on against the Hokies forced freshman Luke Maye into 11 minutes of playing time.
It also allowed Virginia Tech (12-8, 4-3 ACC) to get to the free throw line 32 times–of which it made 22. The Hokies–led by Zach Leday’s 17 points–drilled eight three-pointers on the day, with three of them coming during the 18-3 run that closed out the first half.
Through it all, UNC still found a way to win–as ugly as it may have been.
“I was not concerned,” Williams said about his team’s recent shooting woes. “But now, I can be concerned if I want to, because three games in a row is enough. [We’ve] got to be able to step up and make some shots.”
It’s been well-documented in recent weeks the amount of depth the Tar Heels have. But this win was more about grit than it was about having a number of different players step up.
As the lead dwindled and the clocked ticked away, Virginia Tech seemed to have an answer for everything the Tar Heels threw its way–until it mattered most.
With the score tied at 68 and just two minutes to play, UNC tightened up defensively and made plays when they were needed.
Johnson and Paige combined to hit five free throws down the stretch, while Berry found Justin Jackson underneath the rim for an easy layup in between.
The Hokies during that span missed three shots and turned the ball over twice.
Williams’ team simply put on its hard hats and did what it’s become accustomed to lately.
Grinding it out, no matter how much whiter it makes the coach’s hair.
Now, the number one ranking awaits.
If the Tar Heels do return to the top of the polls, they won’t make their first defense until Saturday, Jan. 30 at home against the Boston College Eagles–the ACC’s last place team.
It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game the UNC football team has played this year, but after letting a 14-point lead disintegrate in the final three minutes of regulation the 17th ranked Tar Heels were able to escape Blacksburg on Saturday with a 30-27 overtime victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies–keeping their playoff hopes intact.
“That’s why I’m in this,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said afterwards. “To see [the players] reach their goals and dreams. We sit in those living rooms and tell them and their parents that my dream is for them to reach their dreams when they come to Carolina.
“For those seniors, their No. 1 goal this year was to win the Coastal Division, and they’ve done that,” he added. “And we expect that to turn into bigger things.”
Senior quarterback Marquise Williams fumbled three times in the game–and twice in the fourth quarter with UNC trying to run out the clock–but his 5-yard touchdown pass to Quinshad Davis in the extra period was a walk-off winner.
“Marquise really was never shaken–I can’t say the same for me,” Fedora said. “After the second fumble, he came off and he was like, ‘Okay, I’m good, I’m good.’ I didn’t have a whole lot to say to him. I really didn’t. There was nothing good that I was going to say.
“He went over there and got himself ready to go,” the coach said about his quarterback. “He knew what was at stake and what he had to do, and then he went back out. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll make a play.’”
Already UNC’s all-time leading receiver in terms of catches and touchdowns, Davis’s touchdown clinches the ACC Coastal Division for the Tar Heels and their head coach, Larry Fedora. It also marks the team’s 10th consecutive victory, bringing its record to 10-1 in 2015–and a perfect 7-0 against conference opponents.
All signs late in the ball game pointed to Virginia Tech pulling off a fairy tale ending for their head coach since 1987, Frank Beamer, in what was his final home game at Lane Stadium. Instead, Beamer’s squad falls to 5-6 overall and 3-4 in the ACC–needing a win next week against Virginia to keep his 22-year streak of making a bowl game alive.
Hokie quarterback Michael Brewer completed 20 of his 35 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns–each coming in the game’s closing minutes. His top target, receiver Isaiah Ford, continually burned the Tar Heel secondary deep all game long–catching eight passes for 155 yards and a score.
“When we talked all week about this game, we knew that this was the perfect storm,” Fedora said. “Everything was going against us. They had the tribute to Coach and they needed to get bowl eligible and it was the seniors’ last day in this stadium, and the black unis.”
A defensive battle for most of the day, Williams’s 18-yard touchdown run on the game’s first drive was the only touchdown of the first half. Joey Slye’s 32-yard field goal for Virginia Tech accounted for the only other points before the break, with UNC ahead 7-3.
The Tar Heels struggled with the crowd noise in Blacksburg, picking up seven false start penalties on offense–which helped contribute to the season-high eight punts they were forced into.
On top of that Williams struggled with his accuracy, only completing 13-of-26 throws, but for 205 yards and a score.
Taking advantage of that fact, the Hokies were able to hang around until the end–getting a 4-yard scoring run from Brewer to tie the game at 10 with the fourth quarter approaching.
Despite getting only three carries in the first half, Fedora turned to sophomore tailback Elijah Hood to try and put the game away in the end.
On back-to-back drives to begin the final period, the Tar Heels found the end zone by giving it to Hood, who gained 117 yards on 17 carries once it was all said and done.
Sophomore cornerback MJ Stewart then intercepted Brewer in the red zone with just over 5 minutes remaining and the Tar Heels up by a pair of touchdowns
It seemed, momentarily, like the game was over at that point. But the Hokies found a way to battle back.
A bad exchange on a handoff from Williams to Hood gave Virginia Tech the ball at their own 37-yard line. Then a couple of long passes by Brewer, one for 25 yards to fullback Sam Rogers, and a 26-yarder to Ford put them in business.
Four plays later–on fourth-and-goal–Brewer found 6-foot-7 tight end Bucky Hodges to make it 24-17 with 2:54 remaining.
TJ Logan got the Tar Heels going with a 21-yard rush to begin their next drive, but on the next play Williams fumbled again–and again Virginia Tech recovered.
Starting from UNC’s 48-yard line, Brewer and Ford struck again–this time on a 36-yard bomb that set the Hokies up 12 yards from the end zone.
The script was similar to the previous drive, as Tech faced 4th-and-2. Only this time Ford got to finish what he started, hauling in a 4-yard score that ended up sending the game to overtime.
UNC won the coin toss to begin the extra period and chose to start out on defense.
Virginia Tech was unable to even gain a first down in their chance with the ball, going three-and-out and settling for a 41-yard field goal–meaning a touchdown would win it for the Tar Heels.
And that’s exactly what they got, pulling things together after unraveling late.
An 18-yard pass from Williams to Ryan Switzer got the ball rolling on the drive’s first play, before a false start penalty a couple snaps later put the team in a precarious position.
Third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. With the ACC Coastal Division on the line.
In the season opener against South Carolina, Williams was faced with the same situation and ended up throwing the ball into the outstretched arms of a defender–the only reason this team isn’t undefeated now.
This time, though, he found the outstretched arms of the program’s most decorated receiver. And with it, the right to play No. 1 ranked Clemson two weeks from now in Charlotte, his hometown.
“We knew we were going to have to play error-free,” Fedora said. “That’s what we talked about, just be really good in the fundamentals and the techniques, and be brilliant in the basics.
“And we didn’t, but we found a way to win.”
Although this win clinches the Coastal Division for the Tar Heels, they’ll still have to defeat the arch-rival NC State Wolfpack in Raleigh next week to keep their playoff hopes alive.
That’s all it will take for the No. 12 ranked UNC football team to clinch the ACC Coastal Division and continue its dream season.
Standing in front of them?
A date in Blacksburg against the Virginia Tech Hokies–in what will be the final home game for their legendary head coach, Frank Beamer.
Blowout victories over Duke and Miami in the last couple weeks have shown fans that head coach Larry Fedora’s team is a force to be reckoned with. Ranked 17th in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the 9-1 Tar Heels have been largely overlooked thanks to losing the season opener to a now 3-7 South Carolina team, and also for having a weak strength of schedule that hasn’t included a single top 25 opponent.
Because of that, UNC’s playoff credentials have been a hot button issue this week. But for senior quarterback Marquise Williams, none of it matters much at this point.
“It’s cool, but you can tell [the playoff committee] still doesn’t respect [us],” Williams said at Monday’s weekly press conference. “As long as [we] just keep winning football games—and keep winning by 30 and 40 points—I mean, eventually they’ll have to respect [us].
“It’s fun, but you can tell deep down inside they don’t wanna talk about Carolina football,” he added with a chuckle. “And that’s alright.”
The Tar Heels have an outside shot at making the four-team playoff for the national championship by winning out, and defeating Clemson in a potential ACC title game.
The next step, though, is to defeat Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium—notoriously one of the loudest environments in college football. Although the Hokies have struggled to an uncharacteristic 5-5 record so far, Fedora refuses to look past his opponent.
“It will be an extremely tough game, playing up there in Blacksburg,” Fedora said. “Especially with Coach Beamer’s last home game.
“There will be a tremendous amount of emotion,” he added. “I’m sure that there will be a lot of former players there to see him in his last game, and so we will definitely have our work cut out for us.”
Beamer has been the coach at Virginia Tech since 1987 and has won 234 games, made 22 bowl appearances, and produced NFL standouts like Michael Vick and DeAngelo Hall along the way. His teams have always been extremely sound on special teams and hard-nosed on defense—which Williams says could present a challenge this week for him and the rest of the dynamic Tar Heel offense.
“That’s always been a great defense,” Williams said about the Hokies. “You can’t look over them because they’re ready. [Defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s] gonna have them ready to go in this game for Frank Beamer and it’s exciting.
“They play [man-to-man coverage]” the senior continued. “They’re gonna make [us] beat them one-on-one, and make competitive catches.”
Part of the Tar Heels’ recent success has come because they have taken care of the football—avoiding turnovers in each of their past three games. That’s something Fedora and his staff have preached all year long.
But that’s not the only message he’s given to the team that has stayed consistent throughout the season.
“Coastal Division champs, state champs—that’s it,” Fedora said. “I don’t really get into it, I just tell [the players] our goal every week.”
He then added that, “We’re like trained pigs. We’ve got something and we just keep doing it over and over and over.”
That mindset has helped the UNC offense grow into one of the nation’s most dominant, while its defense has been by far the most improved—allowing just 19 points per contest in 2015 after giving up 39 a game just one year ago.
Senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer—who has been critical to that turnaround–has also not been afraid to tell the truth about what’s been on the minds of the Tar Heel players all week.
“We’re not worried about Frank Beamer’s last home game or any of that,” Schoettmer said. “We control our own destiny to win the Coastal and get to the ACC Championship. So that’s really what we’re worried about.”
The game is set to begin Saturday at noon, and will be broadcast live on WCHL’s radio airwaves (97.9 FM, 1360 AM). It will also be televised on ESPN.
Facing a potential “do or die” scenario on Tuesday, Zac Gallen led the struggling UNC baseball team to their most important victory of the season–a 5-3 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies in Durham that puts the Tar Heels into the pool play portion of the ACC Tournament.
Had Carolina (33-22, 14-16 ACC) lost, there was speculation that they may not be selected for the NCAA tournament.
Those worries can likely be put to bed now, thanks to Gallen’s clutch performance–which also preserves the thin UNC pitching staff for the rest of the week.
Gallen (4-3) worked 6.2 innings for the game, surrendering just two runs on eight hits. He struck out seven hitters in the process.
Versatile infielder Alex Raburn had three hits for the Tar Heels to lead the offensive charge. Landon Lassiter had a pair of doubles and Skye Bolt picked up two RBIs to help the cause.
Virginia Tech’s season is likely over, as they finish the year at 27-27 overall and 13-17 in the ACC.
The Tar Heels’ All-ACC second team starting pitcher came out on top this time in his pitching rematch with Hokie left-hander Kit Scheetz.
“The main thing for me is just to try to keep my composure”, Gallen said after the game.
“If I make my pitches most of the time they’re going to get themselves out. I just try to stay out of the middle of the plate and make them hit my pitches, not try to give up any free hits. So luckily today I made some good pitches. I got some help from the defense, they really bailed me out,” he added.
Gallen allowed a lead-off single to Virginia Tech center fielder Saige Jenco in the first inning, but then struck out the side–in a moment that foreshadowed what was to come.
Trouble looked like it had found Gallen in the second when he surrendered a base hit and a pair of walks to load the bases for Virginia Tech. Jenco then picked up his second single of the day, striking first blood for the Hokies.
But the sophomore from Gibbsboro, New Jersey remained calm and got shortstop Alex Perez to fly out and end the inning without any further damage being done.
The Hokies had another chance to break the game open in the top of the fourth–putting runners on first and third with just one out–but once again Gallen kept his composure and escaped the jam.
Not until the seventh did he leave the game after giving up the Hokies’ second run. Jenco struck again with a two-out double, which was directly followed by an RBI single from Perez.
Reliable senior Trevor Kelley then took over for Gallen to pick up the final out of the frame.
After letting the Hokies creep to within one run in the top of the eighth, Kelley found himself in a difficult position with runners on first and third and only one out.
“It was a big situation. I had to get like two back to back strikeouts. And for me I’m just I’m more of a ground ball guy. And to get two strikeouts in a big situation, that’s very rewarding for me,” Kelley said.
The senior from Wilmington then returned to the mound and worked a scoreless ninth inning to seal the deal–striking out two more Hokies on his way to the save.
Meanwhile, Scheetz (3-4), who defeated Gallen by going seven strong innings on April 17, lasted just four on Tuesday.
Although he kept the Tar Heel offense at bay during the first three frames, he was done in by his defense in the bottom half of the fourth–as the momentum shifted completely.
Carolina got a huge break when Jenco dropped a routine fly ball in center field hit by Landon Lassiter to lead off the inning. Lassiter advanced all the way to third on the error, coming home to tie the game soon after on a sacrifice fly from Skye Bolt.
Two more runs would score for UNC–on a pair of RBI singles from freshman roommates Logan Warmoth and Zack Gahagan–to give Gallen a comfortable cushion to work with on the mound the rest of the way.
An RBI groundout from Skye Bolt in the next inning proved to be the difference in a win that did not come easy.
A perfectly executed suicide squeeze play by Eli Sutherland in the Carolina half of the eighth sent Korey Dunbar across the plate for the fifth, and final, Tar Heel run of the game.
“[We’ve] got to play under pressure,” said UNC Head Coach Mike Fox, “Our team has competed pretty much all year, we just haven’t been great”
“But we got the win that we needed to….we’ll focus on that. We need to continue to get better as a team, certainly,” he added.
The Tar Heels are now a part of a four team group that includes No. 3 Louisville, No. 13 Florida State, and Clemson.
UNC will play Louisville on Wednesday at 7 p.m., Florida State on Thursday at 7 p.m., and Clemson on Friday at 3 p.m.
The team with the best record in the group after Friday will play in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.
As the ACC baseball tournament begins at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday eighth-seeded UNC will take on the ninth-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies in the second of two play-in games–and a loss could potentially end the Tar Heels’ season.
Just a few short weeks ago it was thought that the Tar Heels could potentially host an NCAA Tournament regional at Boshamer Stadium.
Now they’ve been swept in back-to-back ACC series for the first time since 2001 on their way to a 13-16 record in league play. Pair that with an unspectacular 32-22 overall mark and you get a head coach with six College World Series appearances just hoping to play past Tuesday.
“I think Tuesday’s do or die for us,” said Mike Fox, “I don’t think you can finish 13-16 in your conference–and lose the play-in game–and go to the NCAA Tournament.”
“That’s me just speaking, not looking at all the numbers and all the teams. I think you gotta earn you way in.”
You have to go back again to 2001 to find the last time a UNC baseball team missed the NCAA tournament, a year where it finished 31-26.
Virginia Tech also the finished the year at 13-16 in league play, but with an overall mark barely above .500–at 27-26.
The conference tournament format—which has the teams finishing seventh through tenth compete in “winner take all” play-in games in order to advance to the pool play portion of the event—does not sit particularly well with Coach Fox.
“I do not like one-and-done, I’ve voiced my disapproval of that from day one,” said the coach, “There’s Virginia [in] seventh, and they’ve been playing well, and now they’re in a one game elimination. And that’s tough because they’re a good team. I think they’re deserving, especially with the way they finished [sweeping UNC this past weekend].”
“It’s hard. Baseball’s just not that type of game where it should be just one game elimination. That’s just my opinion.”
To move on, the Tar Heels will need a victory against a Virginia Tech team that has already proven it can beat this UNC squad, doing so on April 17 in Blacksburg against Carolina’s All-ACC Second Team starting pitcher Zac Gallen—a loss that has not been forgotten in Chapel Hill.
“Yeah, Virginia Tech gave us certainly all we could handle up there,” said Coach Fox, “We’re starting Zac Gallen [on Tuesday] and he pitched the first game up there and got knocked around pretty good. Gave up a couple long-balls.”
“They’re gonna present all kinds of problems for us.”
The most notable threat wearing a Virginia Tech jersey on Tuesday will be first baseman Brendon Hayden. Hayden was named to the All-ACC First Team after ending the regular season with 11 home runs–including a pair against UNC–51 RBIs, and a .314 batting average.
Although there is a possibility UNC could play three or four more games this week, Coach Fox can’t look past Tuesday–especially when it comes to thinking about how he’ll use his pitchers.
“When you put yourself in this position to play on Tuesday, you’re set up for whatever the league decides to do with you, in terms of the next three days, and we really can’t think about that. All hands are on deck with our pitching staff,” he said.
If Carolina does win its play-in game, it would be placed into a group alongside Louisville, Florida State, and Clemson. Louisville and its first-round MLB draft prospect, starting pitcher Kyle Funkhouser, would be the opponent on Wednesday.
The Tar Heels are competing in the play-in round for the second year in a row, having defeated NC State 4-3 last year in Greensboro.
UNC also defeated Virginia Tech 4-1 in the 2013 ACC Championship Game, which was the last time the tournament was held in Durham.
First pitch for the game Tuesday is scheduled for 3 p.m.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tuesday-holds-the-key-for-tar-heels-ncaa-hopes