Sep 3, 2021; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA;  Virginia Tech Hokies fans cheer during the second quarter against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

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Virginia Tech defense stops No. 10 North Carolina

Virginia Tech’s Braxton Burmeister outproduced heralded North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell as the Hokies recorded a 17-10 upset of the 10th-ranked Tar Heels in an Atlantic Coast Conference season opener Friday night in Blacksburg, Va.

Burmeister had a touchdown run and a scoring pass. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 169 yards with one interception.

Howell was 17-for-32 for 208 yards and one TD, but he was intercepted three times in a rough outing for a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate.

It didn’t matter that once in each half Virginia Tech had possession inside the North Carolina 15-yard line and came away without any points.

The Tar Heels closed within 17-10 with 5:53 left on Grayson Atkins’ 31-yard field goal.

North Carolina regained possession with 3:10 left, needing to go 87 yards. The Tar Heels converted a fourth-and-11 with an 18-yard Howell pass to Emery Simmons. However, Charmarri Conner intercepted Howell with 37 seconds to seal the upset.

North Carolina appeared in big trouble after a failed fourth-down play with 12:33 to play, with the Hokies taking possession at the Tar Heels’ 43.

Ja’Qurious Conley intercepted Burmeister on the next play. Two plays later, Dax Hollifield picked off Howell.

That sequence went for naught for the Hokies when John Parker Romo missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt.

The game represented a huge upgrade for the Virginia Tech defense, which was on the wrong end of a 56-45 road loss to North Carolina last year.

Down 14-0, North Carolina threatened on its second drive of the second half, but Howell was picked off by Jermaine Waller. The Tar Heels finally got on the board when Howell connected with Josh Downs on a 37-yard touchdown play with 4:20 to play in the third quarter.

Virginia Tech responded with a 48-yard Romo field goal for a 17-7 edge with 14:18 to go in the game.

The Hokies led 14-0 at halftime. North Carolina had only four first-half possessions, and the last of those began with 19 seconds to play. The Tar Heels had 23 offensive snaps in the half.

Virginia Tech, trying to recover after its string of 27 consecutive seasons in a bowl came to a halt in 2020, scored on the game’s opening possession with an eight-play drive that ended with Burmeister’s 4-yard run.

The Hokies moved inside the North Carolina 10-yard line on their next possession, but that threat was halted by a fumble in the last minute of the first quarter.

On Virginia Tech’s next chance, an 80-yard drive concluded on Burmeister’s third-and-goal pass to James Mitchell for an 11-yard touchdown.

The Tar Heels entered the season with their highest preseason ranking in 24 years after they concluded last season with an appearance in the Orange Bowl. Coach Mack Brown is starting the third season of his second stint in charge at Chapel Hill.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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