By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
The Tar Heels got Byrn-ed.
With the ball at Virginia Tech’s own 2-yard line late in the second quarter, Logan Thomas threw the ball deep to Willie Byrn, who caught the ball at midfield and saw nothing but green grass ahead of him, but stumbled and was brought down at the 15.
Blame the knee.
“I was shocked that he called that, but it ended up working well,” said Byrn who was limited in practice all week with a left knee injury. “I want to go ahead and blame my knee for me getting run down, but that was a great call and a great throw by Logan.
“If he keeps doing that, if (offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler) keeps making those masterful plays calls, then we will be pretty good.”
That 83-yard reception _ tied for seventh longest in program history _ led to a 5-yard scoring pass from Thomas to D.J. Coles, and the Hokies took an insurmountable 21-7 lead into halftime, and wound up with a 27-17 ACC victory over North Carolina in front of an announced homecoming crowd of 65,632 on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium.
Virginia Tech (5-1, 2-0) won its fifth straight game, and could be on the brink of returning to the Top 25 in the national rankings, having come up just short last week.
Head coach Frank Beamer is simply concerned with next week, a home game with ACC newcomer Pittsburgh.
“I think we’re looking forward to next week against Pittsburgh, so we’re going to improve as much as we can this week and see what we can do to get a win against Pittsburgh,” Beamer said. “After that, we’re going to look forward to the next game.”
While Thomas went to the air for 293 yards and three first half touchdowns, North Carolina was minus its star quarterback, Bryn Renner, who saw his streak of 29 straight starts come to an end with an injury, forcing sophomore Marquise Williams into action against one of the top-ranked defenses in the nation.
Williams finished with 277 yards, one touchdown and interceptions by Kyshoen Jarrett and a key pick late in the game by Kyle Fuller.
“Marquis did a heck of a job stepping in for Bryn and finding out he was going to start right before the game,” North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said. “There’s only one throw he made that we would like to have back. Other than that I thought he threw the ball well and that he managed the game well.”
Virginia Tech, which lost to the Tar Heels 48-34 last season, struck first with 4:17 left in the opening quarter when Thomas connected with a wide open Demetri Knowles in the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown, a play that was preceded by an 17-yard completion to Byrn, who finished with four receptions for 123 yards.
While Virginia Tech’s struggles in the run game continued _ finishing with 48 net yards on 34 carries _ Thomas had no such troubles, completing 19-of-28 passes, including 13-of-20 for 230 yards and the three scores in the opening half.
“I think he made some great throws today. He sits in the pocket and makes great throws…,” said Beamer, of Thomas, who completed passes to nine different receivers. “He’s tough, he’s smart and I think the NFL definitely needs to take that guy. I’d take him if I was up there.”
Virginia Tech, which out-gained the Tar Heels 139-26 in the opening quarter, continued to put up yards and points on its first possession of the second period. The Hokies went 73 yards on 12 plays, keyed by a 21-yard pass to Joshua Stanford and 18-yard completion to Byrn before Thomas found Coles in the back of the end zone from nine yards for the 14-0 lead.
North Carolina (1-4, 0-2) also struggled in the run game, finishing with 99 yards _ 56 by Williams _ was able to get its lone points of the first half on its next possession, and 10-play drive keyed by a short pass to Quinshad Davis, who turned it into a 40-yard gain.
That was followed by a 16-yard pass to T.J. Thorpe, and Williams was able to convert a 4th and 1 from the 10 with a quarterback sneak. Two plays later he threw the ball into the end zone from six yards out and 6-foot-4 Eric Ebron wrestled the ball away from 5-11 freshman to narrow the margin to 14-7 with 9:09 on the clock.
Field position appeared to favor North Carolina on its next possession, with a Tommy Hibbard punt downed at the two by Tim Scott.
That is when Virginia Tech called ‘the play’, with Thomas connecting with Byrn on the 84-yard pass, the third longest non-touchdown pass in the program’s history.
“I was very surprised by the call, but I know how (Loeffler) is, he is ready to attack and they brought a lot of guys and they kind of let Willie go,” said Thomas, who passed Tyrod Taylor to become the school’s all-time leader in passing yardage. His 45 career touchdown passes are three short of the school record. “I wish he didn’t have a little bit of a rusty wheel, but it was good to get a big gain out of it.”
Thomas followed with a short pass to Sam Rogers, who ran for 14 yards to the 1. A play later and he completed a short pass to wide-open Coles for the 21-7 lead at the break.
“Well, we as an offense want to run the ball better and get us some more 2nd and 5s, but we also have to be able to throw the it when they gang up on you like that,” said Beamer, whose Hokies had out-gained the Tar Heels 277-147 at halftime. “It’s not just a gimme that they can load the box and stop the run.
“We’re getting closer to forcing people to always worry about stopping both.”
The second half wasn’t as productive for the Hokies, who managed just 64 yards after the break, but the Virginia Tech defense and one of 11 penalties stifled the Tar Heels.
North Carolina freshman Ryan Switzer, the Kennedy Award last year in West Virginia, returned a punt 81 yards for an apparent touchdown early in the third period, but was nullified by an illegal block in the back by Tre Boston.
Instead the Tar Heels went 3-and-out and had to punt, and could manage just a field goal and late touchdown after a 1-yard run by Trey Edmunds had put the Hokies up 27-10 with 4:06 on the clock.
“I will say that they are going to be one of the best defenses in the country,” said Fedora, whose Tar Heels had three turnovers to none for the Hokies. “I can tell you that right now. That’s a Bud Foster defense. He does a great job with them…They have that mojo going.”
North Carolina did narrow the margin to 21-10 on a 36-yard field goal by Thomas Moore with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
Virginia Tech could do little on offense, while the Tar Heels drove the ball on their first possession of the fourth quarter to the Hokies’ 33-yard line. On 4th and 3, North Carolina tried to surprise the Hokies with a pass, but Kyle Fuller stepped in front of Jack Tabb for the interception.
“All those plays are critical plays and critical to our success,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, whose defense was led with 11 tackles apiece by Tariq Edwards and Jack Tyler. “Right now we haven’t been turning it over and we’ve been creating plays and that’s good team football.”
One of three North Carolina turnovers came on the next possession when Switzer muffed a Virginia Tech punt and Chase Williams recovered at the 17. Edmunds ran six straight times before finally scoring from the 1 with 4:06 to play.
Giles product Cody Journell, who made his first three extra point attempts, had his fourth kick blocked by Brandon Ellerbe. Jeff Schoettmer paced the Tar Heels with 13 tackles.
“Most definitely, it is always exciting to put a number six points on the board, it is always exciting,” said Edmunds, who led the Hokies with 27 yards on the ground. “When you do it that late in the game, it just shows how much we are together and how much we didn’t quit and showed relentless effort from us.”
An altercation on the ensuing kickoff led to the ejection of Tabb for the Tar Heels, who were then able to drive down the field and score late on a 24-yard pass from Williams to Davis with 1:09 to go.
Davis led North Carolina with six receptions for 94 yards, while Ebron had six for 70. The Tar Heels outgained the Hokies 376-341.
“I give Frank and his staff credit. They played well and error free football,” said Fedora, whose lone win this season came against Middle Tennessee . “We made a lot of mistakes today. We played hard. It was good to see our guys turn loose a bit and play, but we just made too many mistakes on the road to be able to win a game like that.”
The Tar Heels then tried an outside kick, but Charley Meyer recovered for Virginia Tech, and the Hokies ran out the clock.
Up next is Pittsburgh. Much like the Tar Heels last season, the Panthers defeated the Hokies 35-17 in 2012. This is a new season, and a different team.
“I would say that this football team finds a way to get it done and I like that,” Beamer said. “We grind, it’s not always smooth. It is a great effort. Our practices have been great and I’ve told you we have a great bunch of young guys. They’re getting older every game.”
— Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org