Virginia Tech 27,
North Carolina 24
-- Virginia Tech clinched its 12th straight bowl bid and remained atop the ACC on Saturday, but the 27-24 victory over North Carolina came in a way few in Kenan Stadium could have imagined after the third quarter.
Entering the final 15 minutes, tailback Mike Imoh had 202 yards rushing and the No. 18 Hokies had twice as many first downs as North Carolina, almost 12 more minutes of possession and a 10-point lead.
However, after scoring a touchdown off a blocked punt, the Tar Heels mounted a late drive that could have tied the score or won the game. But after defensive tackle Jim Davis's 11-yard sack of Darian Durant, Connor Barth's 54-yard field goal attempt with 66 seconds left fell way short.
"Sometimes you get on these rolls," said Coach Frank Beamer, referring to the Hokies (7-2, 4-1) winning their third league game on the road. "I think we're on a good one right now."
The Hokies made it look easy for 50 minutes as Imoh (Robinson High) kept cutting and powering out of tackles. In all, his 236 yards (on 31 carries) came within five of the school record that Kevin Jones set last season during a loss at Pittsburgh.
"I had mixed emotions," Imoh said, "because Kevin was my roommate and he's in the NFL and all."
Tech's signature run was the 13-yarder Imoh took into the end zone that extended the lead to 27-14 with just less than four minutes left in the third period.
"Its code name is Billy, after me," running backs coach Billy Hite said, "because I like power plays."
On this one, left guard Jason Murphy pulled right and blocked his man to the inside, and right tackle Jon Dunn smacked another defender to the outside. Imoh scurried through a huge hole between them and, after another block by fullback Jesse Allen, trotted across the goal line.
The Hokies could have won going away had quarterback Bryan Randall (7 of 18 for 100 yards) been a little more accurate and split end Josh Hyman not dropped a couple of passes. But they rarely have had much chance to relax in their first ACC season. Early on, there were hints of a track meet in shoulder pads, with each team scoring a touchdown on its first possession. The Tar Heels (4-5, 3-3) drove 80 yards on seven plays, the final one a 48-yard run by tailback Chad Scott after breaking a tackle by strong safety James Griffin near the line of scrimmage.
The Hokies immediately countered with a 72-yard drive that included two UNC penalties that converted third downs and kept Tech in possession. Imoh had the final 47 yards and slipped into the end zone after the last five behind a block by center Will Montgomery.
After Tech's Brandon Pace missed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide right, the score remained tied at 7 early in the second quarter when Tar Heels backup wide receiver Wallace Wright broke behind backup safety Mike Daniels at about the Tech 25 and grabbed Durant's pass for what ended as a 49-yard touchdown.
Tech once again quickly struck back with its longest touchdown drive of the season, an 86-yarder that featured two medium-range completions by Randall, a tough 12-yard run by Imoh and Randall diving into the end zone from the 1.
On the ensuing possession, cornerback Jimmy Williams stepped in front of a Tar Heels receiver, caught the ball and returned it 11 yards to the Carolina 24 with 3 minutes 36 seconds left before halftime. Imoh gained 13 yards on two cracks before the Tar Heels held and Pace kicked a 24-yard field goal to lift the Hokies to a lead they would never relinquish.
With 10:30 left in the game, UNC's Tom O'Leary broke through the middle of the line and easily flicked the ball off the foot of Tech punter Vinnie Burns. Backup free safety D.J. Walker recovered at the 1 and went in for the touchdown. Later, the Tar Heels moved toward a tying field goal before Davis nailed Durant on third and eight from the Tech 26.
"I faked inside, went by [the blocker] and used my speed," Davis said. "The secondary gave me quite a bit of time, and I saw [Durant's] feet and just grabbed 'em."
The Hokies do not play again until Nov. 18 against Maryland in Blacksburg, Va. After that, it's Virginia at home and Miami on the road to end the season -- and winning out means the ACC title and a BCS bowl.
Said Randall: "We control how everything goes. You can't ask for more."