CHAPEL HILL, NC -- The good news is the Virginia Tech offense made strides. The bad news is the defense again gave up big plays. Against North Carolina's up-tempo spread offense, the Hokies couldn't keep up.
Virginia Tech struck first but were run over defensively as the Tar Heels rolled over 500 yards of offense to take care of the Hokies 48-34. North Carolina sophomore running back Giovani Bernard ran for 262 yards the most yards ever against a Frank Beamer-coached team.
"That's not what we do," Beamer said. "Then we're driving to score after the half and the guy rips the ball out and a couple of plays later in the end zone. Just big turnarounds, fourth and one, take it to the end zone. I give them credit. We've gotta continue to build on things we're doing well and keep on fighting this thing."
For a while, the visitors showed some life. Virginia Tech finally shook its slow start mantra as Logan Thomas capped the Hokies first drive of the game with a 13-yard run up the middle to take a 7-0 lead.
That lead was very short-lived, as Tar Heels sophomore Sean Tapley took the ensuing kickoff back 94 yards for a touchdown. It's the first return for a touchdown allowed by Virginia Tech in 237 straight games, what was the longest streak in the NCAA. Syracuse was the last to do it against the Hokies, in 1993.
Virginia Tech's defense held on North Carolina's first two drives of the game, except for one pass by junior quarterback Bryn Renner. But though the Hokies held the Tar Heels to a field goal try, North Carolina got new life after an offside penalty and capitalized with a four-yard touchdown run by Renner.
In what was an hour-long first quarter, Virginia Tech responded with a 49-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to senior Marcus Davis to tie the score at 14 with 2:15 left in the quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, with North Carolina at fourth and one, Bernard rushed behind his left tackle 62 yards for a touchdown. The Hokies had their defense stacked up the middle on the play.
After a 14 play drive by Virginia Tech ended in a 40-yard field goal by Cody Journell, junior A.J. Blue found the end zone from a yard out for a 28-17 lead. Journell hit another field goal, from 35 yards with under a minute remaining in the second quarter for a 28-20 deficit at halftime.
The Hokies drove into Tar Heels territory on their second drive of the third quarter. But redshirt freshman Michael Holmes had the ball stripped, the fumble recovered by North Carolina. Four plays later, Renner found Tapley for a 19-yard touchdown pass.
Despite being down 15, the game wasn't over yet. Sophomore Demitri Knowles returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown with 7:36 left in the third quarter. Down 35-26, Virginia Tech went for the two-point conversion, with Thomas' pass attempt for senior tight end Eric Martin sailing through the end zone.
It didn't take long for North Carolina to get going again. Bernard rushed for 51 yards down the left side after a spin move. On the next play, Blue rushed left for a 13-yard touchdown to put the Tar Heels up 45-26.
"It made us tougher on us, yes, but a shootout is a shootout," Thomas said. "You've gotta keep up, you've gotta keep pace. We had a couple of drives in the second half where we didn't go get points, so it didn't make it any easier on our defense in that aspect."
Thomas did his best to get the Hokies back into the game, finding Fuller deep on a 66-yard touchdown pass with 8:55 left to play. Fuller then juggled, but caught the two-point conversion pass from Thomas to pull Virginia Tech within 45-34.
North Carolina also added a 40-yard field goal for the final margin.
The Hokies fall to 3-3 on the season and 1-1 in the ACC. It's now the earliest they've had three losses since 1994. Virginia Tech returns home to Lane Stadium next Saturday for homecoming at 12:30 p.m. as they host Duke.
"We're still in the conference race and still control where we're at," Beamer said. "We've gotta play Duke next week and get on a roll the other way. And that's gonna be hard to do."