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October 6, 2012

Heels light up Tech

For those who thought North Carolina's high-scoring totals against Elon and Idaho were all about the opposition, think again.

Carolina defeated Virginia Tech 48-34 at Kenan Stadium on Saturday, and the Tar Heels were as dominant as the score indicated.

The Tar Heels ran for 366 yards and held the Hokies to 40 yards rushing. Virginia Tech us usually the one posting such numbers.

"We got beat by a team that played very well," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "They've got some skilled guys. They've got a veteran quarterback and they've got running backs that are very good. Twenty-six [Giovani Bernard] has 262 yards today. That doesn't happen against Virginia Tech very much."

The people in the Carolina program understand this. They have immense respect for the Hokies and what they have accomplished through the years, particularly since they joined the ACC.

"It's still early, but this was a great measuring stick for us," UNC first-year coach Larry Fedora said. "This is Virginia Tech. They've dominated the Coastal Division. We needed to go out and play a complete game against them.

"I don't know, we had what, 87 penalties, and we still came out on top. I can't say enough about the effort of our football team."

UNC actually had 15 penalties for 126 yards in losses, but the Tar Heels had no trouble overcoming the setbacks.

Carolina improved to 4-2, 1-1 in the ACC with the victory, while defending Coastal Division champion Virginia Tech fell to 3-3, 1-1.

"It was definitely a statement game," Bernard said. "We knew what our game plan was, and we definitely executed out there. Such a great team like V Tech, people are probably going to say they are having an off-year. For us, it doesn't matter.

"We were going to show everybody we knew what we could do. It definitely showed out there. We came out with a 'W' and that is what we wanted."

Virginia Tech scored first on a 13-yard run by quarterback Logan Thomas with 12 minutes and 55 seconds left in the first quarter. Carolina experienced a horrendous first half at Louisville, and that probably went through the minds of many Carolina fans on Saturday. But wide receiver and kickoff return specialist Sean Tapley made a play that turned the game right back in UNC's favor this time. On the en ensuing kickoff, he traveled 94 yards for a touchdown to answer the Hokies' score.

From thereon out, the Tar Heels snapped into form and played the way they had been playing since halftime of that game against Louisville.

"In the game of football you have to stay patient," Bernard said. "With the playmakers we have on offense, something is going to happen.

"We started off slowly."

Then Tapley split the Virginia Tech coverage team and raced down the sideline for the game-tying touchdown, injecting life into Carolina.

"It was a big play," Tapley said. "We were down. That is when adversity hit. Somebody wanted to make a play. I needed to make a play. I did, and I think it really started to help us with a rhythm."

The Tar Heels certainly found a rhythm. After Virginia Tech scored the opening touchdown, UNC came back to outscore the Hokies 48-27 the rest of the way.

"We felt like we were just player away, one block away [on kick returns]," Fedora said. "They bounced the ball back there, and I'm sure that threw their timing off a little bit. Sean handled it cleanly, and our guys got on everybody.

"He made one guy miss, and then he out-ran them. That ignites your team. Our guys expect to make plays in the kicking game now. They expect a big-time play. That is more than half of it. If you believe it's going to happen, it usually happens."

Bernard certain believes. He said earlier in the week he wanted to show everyone he could produce the kind of numbers against a team the caliber of Virginia Tech that he had against Elon and Idaho.

Instead he did more.

Bernard averaged 11.4 yard per carry against the Hokies, which set a school record. He surpassed the average of 11.1, which Kelvin Bryant set against East Carolina in 1981.

Quarterback Bryn Renner had another outstanding game. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown.

Freshman wide receiver Quinshad Davis continued his weekly growth as a player. He led all Tar Heels with five catches for 65 yards, with a long of 28 yards. He caught several lengthy passes for first downs.

"They manned him up with a good cornerback," Fedora said. "Quinshad had five catches versus press man and did a heck of a job. That is not easy to do. And he is mad because he did not catch a couple of those fade passes.

"You watch that kid, how he progresses in the next couple of years; it's going to be special."

After this game, it appears the Tar Heels' themselves have a chance to become something special this season.

"This victory means so much that words can't really explain how good it feels," offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper said. "The feeling in the locker room after this game was unbelievable. It was just excitement, being with your brothers and all the people you care about.

"Hopefully it's just a great start to new things to come."


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