North Carolina Virginia Tech Football (copy)

North Carolina's Michael Carter is tackled from behind by Virginia Tech defender Devon Hunter.

BLACKSBURG, Va. — North Carolina's football loss to Virginia Tech is a setback for the Tar Heels, who had appeared to be turning a corner.

UNC had narrowly lost to No. 1 Clemson on Sept. 28, then beat Georgia Tech 38-21 on Oct. 5 before its open date.

Virginia Tech was supposed to be one of UNC’s easiest opponents left on its schedule.

The Tar Heels entered the game as a slight favorite and a favorite by some to win the ACC’s Coastal Division.

But UNC never established that it was the better team on Saturday. At halftime, the Tar Heels trailed 21-17.

“I was really disappointed right before the half,” Coach Mack Brown said. “There was about six minutes and 42 seconds left and Virginia Tech scores twice and we have a three-and-out and I thought that changed the momentum of the game. And then it went back and forth from that point. We’ve got to play better before the half.”

The Tar Heels have struggled all season in the second quarters of games, allowing opposing teams to gain momentum heading into halftime. Virginia Tech outscored UNC 14-7 in the second quarter, which seemed to give them confidence in the second half.

There were a number of opportunities missed in this game — opportunities that could have led to a UNC win.

In the first quarter, UNC recovered a fumble and started its drive at the Virginia Tech 34-yard line up 7-0. But the Tar Heels’ drive eventually stalled at the VT 9, and the Tar Heels only managed a field goal.

In the third quarter, UNC recovered another fumble and started its drive at the Virginia Tech 49. But four plays later, the Tar Heels turned it over on downs after attempting a fake punt on fourth-and-short.

In the fourth quarter with the score tied at 31, the Tar Heels got the ball back at their own 25 with 4:31 remaining. But the offense went three-and-out and gained only seven yards before punting.

In the third overtime, after Virginia Tech kicker Brian Johnson missed a field goal to give the Hokies the win, UNC’s Noah Ruggles had a chance to win it all. But he missed his 35-yard kick wide right.

And in the sixth overtime, Howell was sacked on a two-point conversion attempt without passing it.

“We had plenty of opportunities to end the game,” Howell said. “We’ve just got to end it.”

hen asked whether he was worried how the loss would affect his team, UNC coach Mack Brown said, ‘No.’

“They’ve got to pick themselves back up and go to work,” Brown said. “What I’ve told them is take every opportunity we had that you’ve could have done something better, our coaches could have done something better and learn from it because Duke will be here starting tomorrow.”

This content is appearing here as part of the N.C. News Collaborative, a program that aims to better inform readers throughout the state.

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