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(Photo courtesy of HokieSports.com)
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (HokieSports.com) – Michael Brewer threw a touchdown pass, Marshawn Williams scored on a touchdown run and Virginia Tech’s defense held North Carolina’s offense at bay, as the Hokies downed the Tar Heels 34-17 in an ACC game played at Kenan Stadium.
With the victory, the Hokies moved to 4-2 overall on the season, 1-1 in the ACC. North Carolina fell to 2-3, 0-2 in league play.
“It’s huge,” Brewer said of the win. “We treated this one as a ‘must’ win. Our backs were in a corner. It’s tough to climb out of an 0-2 start in conference play.
“I still think, this year, it’s so wide open. It’s going to come down to the very end as to who is going to make it. We feel like, if we come in each week and play well enough to win, then we’ll have a chance to go to the ACC championship. We’ve just got to keep plugging away at it.”
Tech jumped out to an early lead and never trailed in beating North Carolina for the ninth time in 11 meetings since the Hokies joined the ACC. Defensive end Ken Ekanem sacked North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams on the game’s second play, forcing Williams to fumble, and Dadi Nicolas recovered for the Hokies. Two plays later, Marshawn Williams gave the Hokies a 7-0 lead with an 8-yard touchdown run.
The Hokies added to the lead toward the end of the first quarter. Leading 7-3, Tech went on an 82-yard march that took 5:33 off the clock. The Hokies scored when Brewer hit Bucky Hodges for a 26-yard touchdown play, giving them a 14-3 lead.
The big play of the half – and the game – came with roughly a minute left. The Tar Heels tried to mount a drive, getting to their own 45. But Tech’s Kendall Fuller intercepted a Mitch Trubisky pass and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown to give the Hokies a 24-3 lead. It marked the first interception of the season for Fuller (seventh of his career) and the first touchdown of his career.
“My safety put me in a good position,” Fuller said. “We kind of knew what was coming. He told me to jump it, and I was able to make a play.
“That was a big play. Just getting that opportunity and being there to take advantage of it, we were able to get some momentum going into halftime.”
North Carolina cut the Tech lead to 10, 27-17, in the second half on a Marquise Williams touchdown pass to Quinshad Davis with 4:15 left, and the Tar Heels had a chance to cut into it even more with just a little more than three minutes left. Punt returner Ryan Switzer – who returned an ACC-record five punts for touchdowns last season – muffed a punt, though, and Tech’s Deon Newsome recovered at the North Carolina 10. Two plays later, J.C. Coleman scored on a 1-yard run to put the game away, giving the Hokies a 34-17 lead – and the win.
By the end of this game, Coleman and Joel Caleb, the fourth and fifth tailbacks on the depth chart, were playing because of injuries to Marshawn Williams (ankle) and Trey Edmunds (fractured clavicle). Still, Tech managed to rush for 171 yards and finished with 357 yards of offense. Coleman and Caleb combined for 45 yards on 13 carries.
“J.C. made a couple of nice runs, and Joel Caleb … I thought he had the best week of practice last week that I’ve seen him have,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “He looked faster to me. This is his opportunity, and I firmly think he’ll take advantage of the opportunity.
“We’ve had trouble keeping those guys healthy [at tailback], but that’s part of it.”
Also, Tech owned time of possession, keeping North Carolina offense – which rolled up 478 yards of offense against Clemson the previous week – off the field. Tech held the ball for more than 41 minutes compared to a little more than 18 for the Tar Heels.
Despite missing starting defensive lineman Luther Maddy (knee) and key backup Woody Baron (ankle), Tech’s defense held North Carolina to 345 yards and sacked North Carolina quarterbacks five times – three by Ekanem. Three North Carolina turnovers led to 21 points.
“Ken told me during the spring that he was getting ready to turn it up,” Beamer said of Ekanem. “I think he’s turning it up. You really notice him out there. He’s a force to deal with out there. If he can keep that and then you’ve got Dadi [Nicolas] on the other side and Corey Marshall in there and then we get Luther back … we just need to get healthy in there.”