BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — It was just before gametime Saturday when North Carolina coach Larry Fedora learned for certain that the Tar Heels’ chances against surging Virginia Tech were going to be a whole lot slimmer.
Bryn Renner, who had started the last 29 games at quarterback, couldn’t push off on his injured left ankle, and sophomore Marquise Williams was going to have to replace him at quarterback.
Against the No. 5 defense in the country.
Williams acquitted himself well in his first significant collegiate action, dispelling the notion that he’s a running quarterback with limited passing skills by completing 23 of 35 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns, but he also made a key mistake that ended the Tar Heels’ hoping of pulling an upset.
“I thought the kid did a heck of a job stepping in for Bryn,” Fedora said after Virginia Tech’s 27-17 victory, adding “there’s only one throw he made that we would like to have back.”
Williams’ mistake came on a fourth-and-1 play from the Hokies’ 33. The Tar Heels trailed 21-10 at the time, and North Carolina’s defense was routinely stopping the Hokies with little trouble. But when Williams tried to hit Jack Tabb on the play, Kyle Fuller intercepted, and the threat was squelched.
Fedora, at least, saw some things he liked from his team, which gave up 603 yards last week in a home loss to East Carolina, and blew a 20-7 lead a week earlier in a 28-20 loss to Georgia Tech.
“We played hard,” the coach said. “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.”
Logan Thomas matched his career high with three touchdown passes for the Hokies. They all came in the first half as the Hokies (5-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) hung on to win their fifth straight.
The loss was the third straight for the Tar Heels (1-4, 0-2), who later also fumbled a punt, leading to the Hokies’ final TD rendering Williams’ 24-yard scoring pass with 1:09 left inconsequential.
Williams, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound sophomore, also led the Tar Heels in rushing with 56 yards on 18 attempts, and said he felt like he answered questions about his throwing ability, even for himself.
“I guess there were a lot of questions: Could Marquise Williams throw the football?” he said. “I think I proved that to myself today.”
The first half was all Thomas and receivers Willie Byrn, Demitri Knowles and D.J. Coles. Thomas completed 13 of 20 passes in the half for 230 yards, accounting for most of the Hokies’ 277 yards.
Thomas finished 19 for 28 for 293 yards.
Thomas hit Byrn for 17 yards one play before Knowles got free behind the Tar Heels’ secondary for a 45-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring. After another punt by North Carolina, the Hokies drove 73 yards in 12 plays capped by Thomas’ first of two TD passes to Coles, a 9-yard bullet on third down.
Byrn caught an 18-yard pass on that drive, converting a third-and-10 from the Tar Heels’ 27.
North Carolina had gained just 26 yards on 12 plays, but quickly changed that. Williams hit Davis with a short pass that Davis took 40 yards to the Hokies’ 35. A 16-yard completion to T.J. Thorpe followed, and Williams later capped the drive with a 6-yard pass to Eric Ebron for the touchdown.
Late in the half, the Tar Heels seemingly had momentum on their side and pinned the Hokies at their 2 yard-line with a punt, but Thomas found Byrn behind the secondary and hit him for an 83-yard play, the third-longest in school history that didn’t end in a touchdown. Two plays later, Thomas hit fullback Sam Rogers for 14 yards, and after a false start penalty, he found Coles for a 5-yard touchdown.
The Hokies managed just 64 yards in the second half, but the defense had it covered.