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North Carolina's rally falls short against Va Tech

Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas (3) tries to elude North Carolina cornerback Charles Brown (12) and linebacker Zach Brown (47) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Blacksburg, Va., Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas (3) tries to elude North Carolina cornerback Charles Brown (12) and linebacker Zach Brown (47) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Blacksburg, Va., Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
By Hank Kurz Jr.
AP Sports Writer / November 18, 2011

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BLACKSBURG, Va.—North Carolina got off to the best start imaginable and was poised to put No. 9 Virginia Tech on its heels.

One mistake took that chance away, and while the Hokies capitalized, the Tar Heels never recovered until too late, failing to win at Lane Stadium on a Thursday night the way they did in 2009.

"Two years ago when I played here we came up here on a Thursday night and (won)," said Ryan Houston, whose fumble at the Hokies 5 prevented the Tar Heels from possibly taking a 14-0 lead. "I felt like we could have done the same thing today. I just didn't do the best I could."

He wasn't the only one. North Carolina's offense continued to struggle, especially when 1,000-yard rusher Giovani Bernard left in the second quarter with a mild concussion. Virginia Tech went on to win 24-21.

"It hurt us tremendously," Houston said about the injury to Bernard, who had 45 yards on 10 carries and scored the Tar Heels' first touchdown. "He'd break the big ones and we needed them tonight."

North Carolina went from the opening drive until midway through the fourth quarter without scoring, getting only two field goal attempts by Thomas Moore. He missed from 38 and 43 yards.

The Hokies, meanwhile, recovered from a fumble by Logan Thomas on the first play from scrimmage that led to the Tar Heels' first touchdown. After that, Virginia Tech dominated behind its quarterback, who threw for two TDs and ran for a third.

The Hokies (10-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) won their sixth in a row since a home loss to No. 7 Clemson and remained on track for a rematch with the Tigers in the ACC championship game. Virginia Tech clinches its fourth Coastal Division title in five years Saturday night if Virginia loses at No. 23 Florida State.

If the Cavaliers win, the Virginia rivals play Nov. 26 for a berth in the conference championship game.

North Carolina (6-5, 2-5) lost its second straight, but made it interesting.

Bryn Renner's 5-yard touchdown pass to Erik Highsmith made it 24-14 with 7:06 to go, and after the Hokies were forced to punt, Renner's 64-yard pass to Highsmith set up Houston's short touchdown run, making it 24-21 with 2:32 to play.

The Tar Heels tried an onside kick and recovered it, but the ball did not travel the required 10 yards to allow them to gain possession. Virginia Tech almost ran out the clock, leaving the Tar Heels time for one play -- but Renner's short pass fell incomplete.

Renner was 14 of 26 for 224 yards, and Dwight Jones caught six passes for 105 yards. The late rally allowed the Tar Heels to outgain Virginia Tech 358-340, but it was too little, too late.

The Hokies found themselves in familiar territory early -- trailing -- very quickly.

On the game's first play from scrimmage, Sylvester Williams hit Thomas from behind and stripped the ball. Tydreke Powell recovered for the Tar Heels at the Hokies 20.

Renner hit Dwight Jones for 18 yards on the second play, and Bernard ran it in from the 4 on the next play, giving North Carolina a 7-0 lead after just 1:18. It was the seventh time the opponent has scored first against Virginia Tech this season, and the Hokies were 5-1 in those.

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Follow Hank Kurz on Twitter at http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr