Another second half, another back-and-forth battle to the very end for North Carolina.
Yet again, the Tar Heels found themselves in a slugfest that came down to their final drive of the game, and yet again, the Tar Heels might not have found themselves in that precarious spot if it weren’t for a brief lapse just before — and after — halftime.
The game might have been in doubt until Sam Howell’s final pass attempt fell incomplete in the final minute, but it was decided when Virginia scored touchdowns with 13 seconds remaining in the second quarter and 35 seconds into the third quarter.
“You can’t give up a drive in two minutes and six seconds just before the half and then you give up a 65-yard run to start the second half, so that was a 14-point swing,” Brown said. “As much as I’ve talked about the last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half, it killed us tonight.”
Unfortunately for Carolina, it has watched opponents pick up momentum heading into halftime time and again this season.
- Dominating 17-7 at Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels allowed the Hokies to score twice in the final 3:29 to take a 21-17 halftime lead.
- With Carolina leading Miami 17-3 in the home-opener, the Hurricanes pulled within 17-13 with a 10-point outburst in the final 2:55.
- Leading No. 1 Clemson 14-7 just before the half, the Tar Heels allowed the Tigers to march down the field before Trevor Lawrence punched in a 3-yard run with 33 seconds remaining.
In all, opponents have now outscored the Tar Heels 45-17 in the final five minutes of the second quarter.
Just before Virginia’s game-tying drive at the end of the second quarter, Carolina had taken Kenan Stadium into a frenzy with two long touchdown passes from Howell to Dyami Brown, with a 47-yard score to tie the game and a 34-yard catch and run to go ahead 17-10 with 2:06 to go.
All that momentum was squashed as the Cavaliers marched 78 yards in 13 plays, culminating in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Perkins to Hasise Dubois on third down.
Not only did Virginia tie the game, but it got new life headed to the locker room.
“The energy that that gave us at halftime and the momentum to charge into the second half, and just the methodical way that we drove the field,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Our sideline, with every offensive possession that was successful there was an optimism that I don’t think our team has felt because we haven’t played that well offensively on the road.”
Suddenly, a team that was 1-3 on the road this season goes into halftime with the belief that things are going to be different.
On the flip side, a Carolina team that is still learning to win experiences another crushing setback seconds before escaping with a lead in its biggest home game in years.
It certainly appeared Virginia had more juice on Perkins’ 65-yard touchdown run on the second play of the third quarter.
“We just weren’t flying around like we normally are,” Carolina lineman Jason Strowbridge said. “I think guys were kind of waiting on someone to make a play.”
No doubt, there was plenty that transpired in a third quarter that featured five touchdowns, and Carolina still put itself in position to win the game late.
But without the second-quarter lapses, it could have avoided the situation all together, both Saturday and several other times this season.
“That eight minutes, the last four of the first half and the first four of the second half is big,” senior safety Myles Dorn said. “ It’s what makes or breaks a team. That’s a 14-point turnaround right there. If we limit just one of those we have a chance to win the game way before the last drive. I think just making stops at those times is big for us.”