Nov. 11, 2006
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) – Even on a bad day, Georgia Tech was good enough to clinch a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Tashard Choice ran for 119 yards and a touchdown to help the No. 19 Yellow Jackets beat North Carolina 7-0 on Saturday, wrapping up the Coastal Division title despite a subpar performance that still was too much for the woeful Tar Heels.
Choice, who had 32 carries, also had 32 yards receiving on a sluggish offensive day for the Yellow Jackets (8-2, 6-1 ACC), who will face the Atlantic Division winner in the league’s second title game in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 2.
“To get a chance, an opportunity, to play in the ACC championship, that’s everything we’ve worked for,” Choice said. “I think the whole team is ecstatic, but on the other side we’re pretty upset with how we played today. We feel like we should’ve come out and played better.”
This should have been an easy win for the Yellow Jackets against a reeling program that has already announced coach John Bunting will not return next season. But the Tar Heels (1-9, 0-6) fought the entire way, making Georgia Tech work for just about everything.
The Yellow Jackets struggled to find big plays downfield and missed on several deep throws that could have led to points – including Reggie Ball’s overthrown third-down pass to James Johnson that would have been an easy touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Ball completed 10 of 24 passes for 78 yards and an interception, while big-play wideout Calvin Johnson finished with three catches for 13 yards.
Ultimately, Choice’s 3-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to cap a 20-play, 83-yard drive – which spanned 10 1/2 minutes – proved to be enough. The drive was the longest this season in the ACC in terms of number of plays and time.
The Yellow Jackets finished with 221 yards – the fewest allowed by North Carolina’s porous defense all year – but converted 9 of 19 third-down opportunities to extend drives when they needed to most. That gave them their first shutout in six years and their first on the road since beating Duke in November 1985.
“We had to fight to win the game,” Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. “It didn’t come easy. You keep trying to tell the players how talented (the Tar Heels are), how physical they are, and it was true today.”
The Tar Heels had one last chance to tie the game, getting the ball back at their 18 in the final minute. But Joe Dailey’s fourth-down deep ball down the sideline for Hakeem Nicks sailed out of bounds, sealing it with 20 seconds left.
“I’m happy we found a way to get it done,” linebacker KaMichael Hall said, “but it shouldn’t have come down to that.”
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels couldn’t take advantage of the unusually solid performance from a defense that came in allowing an ACC-worst 34 points per game. Dailey, who came in with seven interceptions in seven games, threw two in the end zone on consecutive drives late in the first half on what proved to be the Tar Heels’ best scoring chances.
The Tar Heels also missed on opportunities downfield, finishing with 211 total yards while converting just 2 of 13 third downs to suffer their seventh straight defeat. It was the kind of loss that has come to epitomize Bunting’s six-year tenure at his alma mater, where glimmers of progress are undone by mistakes that just keep happening week after week.
“We had a lot of opportunities to win that game,” Bunting said. “It was frustrating again to lose it the way we did. The locker room is not a fun place to be after a game like that.”
This loss marked the first time North Carolina has been shut out twice in one season since 1989, and came as rumors swirled that the Tar Heels were pursuing former Miami and Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis as Bunting’s successor.
“Until somebody else is sitting in that corner office with their name on that plaque, he’s our head coach,” senior receiver Jesse Holley said of Bunting. “It’s my job and the other seniors to keep our heads on straight and keep the program going in the right direction.”