The Heels finally break their long-lasting losing streak against Virginia after squeaking past the Cavaliers 31-28 on Saturday, November 5th.
This will be the first time in the modern Mack Brown era of Tar Heels’ football that they overcame a fighting Virginia team in Charlottesville, making the Heels now 5-0 on the road for the first time since 1997.
Keep in mind, UNC did not win a single road game last season, and this season, they have not lost one, despite the continuing defensive struggles.
I have two words to describe the Tar Heels’ offense in this game:
The plays he made on several game-determining drives were unparalleled as he continued to make a name for himself as possibly a top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Downs had 15 receptions for 166 yards and a toe-tapping touchdown in terms of receiving, but his receiving only begins to describe the impact he had on this game for the Heels.
He returned 2 punts for 57 yards, his longest being a 38-yard return with 5:54 left in the 4th quarter, to start the Tar Heels offense at the Virginia 37 yard line.
The Heels have been relatively quiet on punt and kick returns all year, but their emergence on special teams could not have come against a tougher road opponent, which helped them maintain their lead throughout the second half.
This game continues the narrative that nothing is ever easy for the Heels.
Even before the game kicked off, things began looking bleak in terms of health.
Graduate transfer linebacker Noah Taylor suffered a season ending injury (lower body) against Pitt, and unfortunately so did defensive end Desmond Evans (upper body).
Unfortunately that wasn’t all.
The Tar Heels starting running back Caleb Hood went down hard on his shoulder during the 1st quarter, only to not return for the rest of the game and later it was announced he would be missing the rest of the 2022 season.
So going into this game, the Tar Heels lacked necessary depth at multiple positions that had been struggling, leaving places for players to step up.
Virginia received the opening kickoff, and as the strained UNC defense couldn’t keep up with the suddenly functional UVA offense, Brennan Armstrong snuck past the UNC defense to give the Cavaliers their first TD in 6 whole quarters.
Yup, you heard that right.
The Heels, desperate for a spark, were shocked by UVA’s red zone defense, and after making it all the way to the UVA 17, the drive culminated in a 35-yard Noah Burnette field goal.
A storyline I personally did not expect for this game was. the emergence of the secondary, namely an arguable top 10 name in college football, Storm Duck.
Duck intercepted a 17-yard Brennan Armstrong pass to give the Heels the ball back and disrupt the developing momentum of the Cavaliers.
They had been in UNC territory at that point, and if they would’ve scored, I think the game would’ve had a completely different outcome.
Both teams traded punts before the Heels finally found the end zone when a 5-yard Drake Maye rushing touchdown put them up 10-7.
The Cavaliers promptly responded with a 3-yard Xavier Brown TD to lead the Heels 14-10 at the half, continuing to trample UNC’s run defense.
The Heels offense came out of the locker room blazing, led by of course Drake Maye and Josh Downs, and an underrated star of this game, running back Elijah Green.
Green scored two touchdowns in the second half, one of which was on an impressive screen where he juked a defender and waltzed right past him into the end zone.
Caleb Hood’s injury has allowed Green to step up and show how much he has improved over his past years at Carolina, despite adversity.
UNC led 31-21 with 7:35 in the 4th quarter, but the game was far from over, as many fans will tell you.
A Heels punt and turnover on downs gave Virginia the opportunity to make it a one-score game with 4:39 on the clock.
And best believe, they did just that. Another Brennan Armstrong rushing TD capped off a 7 play 71 yard drive that took only about 59 seconds off the clock.
Of course they attempted an onside kick, which was recovered by UNC wide receiver Antoine Green at the Virginia 23, allowing the Heels to run the clock out and seal the game kneeling at the Virginia 3.
It wasn’t pretty, but as I like to say, a win is a win.
And plus, the offense continued to persevere through hard drives, and the defense, though giving up some big plays, came up clutch when they were needed the most.
Next week, the 8-1 Heels head to Winston-Salem to face the 6-3 Wake Forest Demon Deacons at 7:30pm on ESPN2.