Virginia Tech football tops North Carolina, moves closer to ACC title game
Sunday, November 14, 2010; 12:08 AM
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer spent much of his week talking up the play of North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates, emphasizing that the senior was playing the best football of his career. It was a similar refrain to the one Beamer used the last time his team came to this state for a game against North Carolina State's talented signal caller, Russell Wilson.
But just like against the Wolfpack, Beamer's talented secondary made a great quarterback look average as Virginia Tech scored a pivotal 26-10 victory over the Tar Heels in front of 60,000 at Kenan Stadium.
Early on, Yates was humming along, moving the Tar Heels down the field in large chunks. North Carolina got first downs on its first four plays of the game and jumped out to a 10-6 lead. But then Virginia Tech safety Eddie Whitley turned in the most spectacular play of his college career.
With Yates and the Tar Heels inside the Hokies 30-yardline, Whitley snatched a pass into the end zone away from North Carolina wide receiver Erik Highsmith in midair, turning a touchdown into a touchback. It was Whitley's first-ever interception.
"When I ripped it away and rolled over, the receiver tried to put both his hands on the ball, but the referee seen it and he knew the call," said Whitley, a junior from Fayetteville, N.C. "Big-time stage, back in my home town, I can't dream of anything better than this."
Said Beamer, "When it happened I said, 'That's the one we need right there.' "
Virginia Tech scored 20 unanswered points from that moment, and now only needs to win either of its remaining games - at Miami next Saturday and a home matchup with Virginia on Nov. 27 - to win the ACC Coastal Division and advance to the conference championship game in Charlotte on Dec. 4.
Whitley's interception wasn't Yates's only turnover, though. The senior, who came into the game with 15 touchdown passes and just four interceptions, threw three more picks after that. He finished the game 18 of 33 for 197 yards.
First it was sophomore Jayron Hosley, who along with cornerback Rashad Carmichael blanketed star wide receiver Dwight Jones (one catch, four yards) all afternoon. On a deep route midway through the third quarter, Hosley outmaneuvered Jones for a Yates pass. Hosley got another interception in the waning moments, his seventh of the season.
At the start of the fourth quarter, with the Hokies holding a 26-10 advantage, Yates threw another deep interception, this time directly into the hands of safety Davon Morgan. It was Morgan's second interception in as many games.
After gaining 217 yards in the first half, the Tar Heels managed minus-four yards in the first 11 minutes of the third quarter and gained just 97 yards after halftime.
"That was one of our keys tonight, not giving up the big play," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said.