CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Dustin Keys kicked the go-ahead 45-yard field goal to cap Virginia Tech's comeback from a two-touchdown deficit and beat North Carolina 20-17 on Saturday in a matchup of Atlantic Coast Conference division favorites.
Kenny Lewis Jr. and Darren Evans each ran for second-half touchdowns for the Hokies (3-1, 2-0 ACC), who struggled much of the game and trailed 17-3 midway through the third quarter before finding a way to win their fifth straight in the series.
Virginia Tech managed just 268 total yards and converted only three of 16 third downs, but hung around and took advantage of their opportunities to get back in the game.
Brandon Tate and Greg Little each scored touchdowns for the Tar Heels (2-1, 0-1), who had pointed to this game as their shot to prove they had arrived as a rising league power in Butch Davis' second season.
Instead, North Carolina's players and fans got a painful reminder that the rebuilding project will not be an overnight success.
Despite stuffing the Hokies at nearly every turn while their offense slowly but steadily moved the ball, the Tar Heels saw it all unravel quickly. They had 14 penalties for 121 yards -- including a pair on third down to extend the Hokies' first TD drive -- while committing four turnovers, miscues made worse when they lost quarterback T.J. Yates to a sprained left ankle in the third quarter.
Little's 50-yard run up the middle gave North Carolina the 17-3 lead with 6:44 to play in the third, but the Hokies answered with a 13-play, 89-yard drive that ended with Evans' 10-yard run to make it 17-10. Then, after Little fumbled at North Carolina's 36-yard line, Virginia Tech capitalized again and tied it on Lewis' 11-yard run with 13:45 to go.
Finally, the Tar Heels committed a late-hit penalty on a punt return that set up Keys' go-ahead kick.
Yates, who was hurt while being sacked by Orion Martin, left the stadium briefly for X-rays before returning and watching the final minutes from a training table. That forced the Tar Heels to turn to redshirt freshman Mike Paulus, who threw an interception to end North Carolina's last best drive and threw another one on fourth down deep in his own end to seal the game.
Paulus finished 3-for-8 for 23 yards, while Tyrod Taylor shook off two interceptions to lead the Hokies' comeback before leaving the game with after injuring his ankle in the final period. Taylor said afterward that he was OK and that he expected to play next week at Nebraska.
Yates completed 11 of 18 passes for 181 yards and a score.
The Tar Heels finished with 307 total yards, but couldn't move the ball effectively on the ground -- which only further hindered the Tar Heels once Yates went down. Little ran for just 21 yards on 17 carries outside of his long score, while Shaun Draughn lost a fumble in his own end to set up a first-half field goal.