October 18, 2008

Virginia's late drive dooms Heels in Charlottesville

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Senior linebacker Mark Paschal has been a part of his share of heartbreaking games in his time at North Carolina.

But even the Tar Heels' other blown-lead loss of the season didn't rattle Paschal like Carolina's 16-13 overtime loss to Virginia, which extended UNC's winless streak here that dates back to 1981.

"I thought I was ticked off after the Virginia Tech game," Paschal said. "But I'm in a whole new mood right now."

Needless to say, it wasn't a good one.

The Tar Heels (5-2, 1-2 in the ACC) let a seven-point lead slip away in the final two minutes, came tantalizingly close to blocking the extra point, and then eventually had to watch the Cavaliers (4-3, 2-1) celebrate wildly in the end zone after a 2-yard touchdown run by Cedric Peerman gave UVa. the victory.

"We missed some opportunities during the course of the game, and in almost every football game I've ever been in, when you don't take advantage of field position and don't take advantage of opportunities, it almost always comes back to haunt you," UNC coach Butch Davis said.

Freshman kicker Casey Barth kicked a 28-yard field goal in overtime for Carolina, but that wasn't enough to beat Virginia, whose offense came alive suddenly at the end of the game.

The Tar Heels appeared to have sealed the game when Barth drilled a 40-yard field goal to make it 10-3 with 2:22 remaining.

But it only took Virginia quarterback Marc Verica 95 seconds of game clock to lead the Cavaliers on an 82-yard drive that Peerman also finished off with a 2-yard score.

Verica, who finished 24 for 38 for 217 yards, completed seven consecutive passes on the drive against a UNC defense that had most of its players dropped back into coverage.

Carolina almost got to breathe a huge sigh of relief when Deunta Williams got a hand on the extra-point try, but the ball wriggled over the crossbar to tie the game.

"I got a pretty good piece of it," Williams said. "Somehow it just went in."

In this rivalry, in this stadium, of course it did.

That's why the question afterward was not how UNC didn't get the miracle it needed to escape this town with its first win in 27 years, but how it let Virginia get into position to win in the first place.

"They were just able to capitalize on our mistakes and soft coverage," Williams said.

Davis said afterward that his team was not in a prevent defense or simply trying to keep the ball in front of it. He said the Tar Heels were trying to get pressure on the quarterback.

But after the game, the UNC defenders spoke about how they dropped eight defenders back to combat the pass only to be picked apart by Verica, who looked more effective on that drive than he had all day.

"I don't know what happened," UNC safety Trimane Goddard said.

Carolina's offensive players didn't have too many answers after the game, either.

The Tar Heels certainly had opportunities, dominating time of possession and repeatedly getting excellent field position.

But after UNC's first drive of the game, a 10-play, 83-yard, five-minute masterpiece that ended with a Ryan Houston touchdown plunge, the well went dry.

"We could have capitalized a lot better than we did," said tailback Shaun Draughn, who rushed for a career-high 138 yards. "I felt like we could have been (moving the ball) the whole game. I guess they made adjustments. We tried to run the same plays, and they weren't working."

UNC quarterback Cam Sexton threw a pair of damaging interceptions; one ended a Carolina drive in Virginia territory, and the other, on the first possession of the third quarter, set up Virginia's field goal, a 37-yarder.

Carolina, clearly missing the services of big-play threat Brandon Tate, also punted four times in Virginia territory.

"They did a good job adjusting to what we were doing," Sexton said. "I don't think they got fooled twice too much."

That left the Tar Heels as the ones who felt like they got fooled, feeling a historic victory suddenly slip through their fingers in the most painful of ways.

"A couple of big plays and they were right back in the game," Paschal said. "It seemed to snowball on us a little bit, and we weren't able to recover."


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