CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina tailback Giovani Bernard rushed for a career-high 262 yards and scored a touchdown, as the Tar Heels rolled to a 48-34 ACC victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium.
With the loss, the Hokies fell to 3-3 overall on the season, 1-1 in ACC play. Tech also lost a regular-season ACC game in the state of North Carolina for the first time since joining the league – a string of 13 straight games. North Carolina moved to 4-2 overall, 1-1 in the league.
Bernard helped the Tar Heels break open a close game early in the second quarter. The Hokies had tied the game at 14 on a 49-yard pass from quarterback Logan Thomas to Marcus Davis toward the end of the first quarter. But UNC answered with a 62-yard touchdown run by Bernard on the first play of the second quarter to take a 21-14 lead.
North Carolina never trailed again, as the Tar Heels rolled up 533 yards of offense for the game, including 339 on the ground.
“I don’t think it’s time for excuses,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said after the game. “I think it’s time for results. We need to kick off better so that we give them a ball that they can take across the field [a reference to Sean Tapley’s 94-yard kickoff return for a score]. We need to hold on to the ball. We need to make some catches in critical situations. We went for it on fourth-and-10 and we had a play, but we couldn’t make the catch [a reference to a dropped pass by Marcus Davis in the third quarter].
“We don’t need to make excuses. We need results.”
Tech kept the game close and, down eight points at the time, was driving early in the second half. But on second-and-10 from the UNC 49, tailback Michael Holmes was stripped of the ball by UNC linebacker Travis Hughes, who kept the ball and gave the Tar Heels possession at the Tech 45. Four plays later, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner hit Tapley for a 19-yard score to give the Tar Heels a 35-20 lead with 7:49 left in the third quarter.
Demitri Knowles returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown after Tapley’s score, but the Hokies went for two points and failed to get it. After that, North Carolina scored the next 10 points to put the game away. A Casey Barth field goal with 3:56 left in the third quarter gave the Tar Heels a 38-26 lead, and A.J. Blue’s 13-yard touchdown run with 1:19 remaining in the third quarter built the lead to 45-26.
Bernard’s yardage came on 23 carries, giving him an average of 11.4 yards per carry. Renner completed 17 of 30 for 194 yards, with a touchdown. Tech’s defense only sacked Renner once and did not force a turnover.
“Our tackling on the perimeter was pitiful,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said that gave up more than 495 yards for the third time this season – all losses. “Geovani Bernard’s a great back, but I think we made him even better.
“We’ve got to get back to being sound fundamentally. That’s one thing we’ve prided ourselves on … is being a great effort team, and I think our effort is pretty good for the most part. We’re not there yet, but we’re going to get that right. But I’m really disappointed in our tackling. That’s been one our trademarks and been a big part of our successes. We’ve always been a fundamentally sound defense and a sound group. Right now, we’re just inconsistent.”
Thomas paced a Tech offense that played well for the most part. He completed 26 of 49 for a career-high 354 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 20 yards and a touchdown. Corey Fuller caught five passes for 143 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown from Thomas. Fuller’s yardage and his touchdown reception were career highs.
“We need to put a complete game together – offense, defense and special teams,” Thomas said. “If we can do that, we can be a pretty good team.”
Tech returns home for its next game, an ACC contest against Duke. Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m.
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