CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Virginia Tech defensive end Jim Davis made a critical sack late in the fourth quarter and North Carolina kicker Connor Barth's 54-yard field goal with a little more than a minute to go came up short as the Hokies escaped with a 27-24 victory over the Tar Heels in front of 58,000 fans at Kenan Stadium.
With the win - Tech's fifth straight - the Hokies became bowl eligible, improving to 7-2 on the season. They also moved to 4-1 in the ACC and remain in a tie for first place in the league standings.
"This team just continues to work hard and find ways to win," Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "I think the chemistry on this team is good and the leadership is good, and late in games, we're finding ways to win."
Leading 27-24, the Hokies found themselves on the verge of a late-game collapse as UNC took the ball from its own 19 to the Tech 24 with a little more than a minute remaining. The Tar Heels were in Barth's range for a game-tying field goal, but on third-and-8 from the Tech 26, UNC coach John Bunting elected to call a pass play.
It turned out to be a huge mistake as Davis, the Hokies 6-foot-4, 260-pound redshirt senior, made a nice move around UNC's offensive guard and drilled Durant for an 11-yard loss. The play pushed the Tar Heels back to the Tech 37. Faced with fourth-and-19, Bunting elected to send Barth out for a 54-yard attempt instead of going for it. The freshman hit it solidly, but came up short with 1:09 left in the game. The Hokies then ran out the clock to seal the win.
"I love to make the big play and I knew we needed one at that time," Davis said of his sack. "I just thank God that I was able to make it and we were able to pull it out."
After trailing 7-0 and 14-7 early in the game, Tech appeared to be in control of the game, gaining a lot of momentum after a Jimmy Williams interception led to a Brandon Pace 24-yard field goal shortly before halftime that gave the Hokies a 17-14 lead.
Then on their first two possessions of the second half, Tech scored. The Hokies took a 20-14 lead on a Pace 36-yard field goal and grabbed a 27-14 lead on a 13-yard run by Mike Imoh.
But the Tar Heels scrambled back into it. A 30-yard field goal by Barth with 45 seconds left in the third quarter cut the lead to 10. And then UNC got a big play on special teams as D.J. Walker returned a blocked punt 1 yard for a touchdown to cut the lead to 27-24. Those two scores set up the game's ending.
For the Hokies, Imoh led the way with a career game. The 5-7, 196-pound junior from Fairfax, Va., finished with a career-high 236 yards on 31 carries and scored two touchdowns. He also caught one pass for three yards and returned three kickoffs for 48 yards, accounting for 287 all-purpose yards.
"I felt good before the game," Imoh said. "The offensive line did an incredible job up front, and basically, if it [the run] was there, we were going to take it. The best thing, though, is that we won the football game. That's the most important thing." Imoh's rushing performance marked the second best ever by a Tech running back. Kevin Jones set the single-game school record last season when he rushed for 241 yards in the Hokies' loss at Pittsburgh.
Chad Scott rushing for 122 yards in a losing effort for the Tar Heels. UNC quarterback Darian Durant threw for 165 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. The Tar Heels finished with 296 yards of total offense, but only 87 of that came in the second half as Tech's defense stiffened after a shaky start.
Tech now takes a week off in preparation for a game against Maryland the following Thursday night (Nov. 18th). Kick-off for the ESPN-televised game is 7:45. The Hokies are 9-1 in ESPN-televised Thursday night games, having won eight straight, including a victory this season over Georgia Tech.