Nov. 8, 2008
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)–Ryan Houston ran for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to help No. 19 North Carolina beat No. 22 Georgia Tech 28-7 on Saturday.
Cameron Sexton added two touchdown passes for the Tar Heels (7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who earned a critical win in the muddled Coastal Division race and ensured their first winning season in seven years.
North Carolina–among the nation’s leaders in turnover margin–also hung in defensively against the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense and converted a pair of fumbles into Houston’s touchdowns to break the game open.
Georgia Tech (7-3, 4-3) finished with 326 yards rushing and 423 total yards, but never could sustain a scoring drive nor push deeper than the Tar Heels’ 23-yard line until Jonathan Dwyer’s 85-yard touchdown run–the longest rush allowed by North Carolina–with 6 minutes left.
By then, however, the Tar Heels already had a 21-0 lead.
North Carolina’s offense didn’t give its defense much help, getting Sexton’s touchdown pass to Zack Pianalto on the opening drive but little else for the next two-plus quarters. That is, until Georgia Tech’s Roddy Jones muffed a punt that was recovered by Matt Merletti at the Yellow Jackets 30 late in the third quarter.
North Carolina converted quickly, getting an 8-yard run from Shaun Draughn to help set up Houston’s 2-yard score that made it 14-0 with 13:57 to play.
Then, Robert Quinn stripped Jaybo Shaw on a keeper and Mark Paschal recovered the fumble on the ensuing possession. Houston converted again, running four straight times before bouncing off a hit from Morgan Burnett at the goalline for a 3-yard score that pushed the lead to 21 points with 10:49 left.
Draughn finished with 90 yards rushing, while Houston had a career-high 74. That offset a shaky passing day from Sexton, who went just 7-for-16 for 100 yards but found Hakeem Nicks for an easy 31-yard score on fourth down with 4:11 left to seal it. Nicks later added a 22-yard catch late in the game from T.J. Yates, making his first appearance from a broken ankle suffered in September, to set the school’s career receiving yardage record.
Dwyer, the league’s No. 2 rusher, ran for 157 yards, but the Yellow Jackets had several miscues that kept them scoreless when the game was in doubt.
They failed to convert either of their fourth-down tries–neither more than 3 yards–and Scott Blair went wide right on field goals of 40 and 52 yards in the first half. Then, when Shaw replaced an ineffective Josh Nesbitt and directed a drive to North Carolina’s 29 in the third quarter, the Yellow Jackets were penalized for a chop block and holding that pushed the ball to midfield. That possession ended with Blair’s quick-kick punt that rolled into the end zone for a touchback.