No. 11 North Carolina 16, Georgia Tech 0
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) _ North Carolina dropped its ``getting to the next level slogan″ this season. Now, the 11th-ranked Tar Heels are on the verge of finally getting there.
Chris Keldorf threw two first-half touchdown passes as undefeated North Carolina remained on a collision course with Florida State, beating previously unbeaten Georgia Tech 16-0 Saturday.
``There are a lot of little things that lead to this,″ said North Carolina coach Mack Brown. ``I think practicing every day without thinking about the other team or the next level is important because you start working on getting better.
``I heard (our players) say before the game today that this is all about us,″ Brown added. ``It’s not about the other team. If we play well we have enough ability to have a good season.″
The Tar Heels (3-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) meet the third-ranked and four-time defending ACC champion Seminoles next Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla., with first place in the league on the line.
``The exciting thing for us is that Florida State, again, may be the best team in the country,″ Brown said. ``And for us to have a chance to go down there and test the waters and see what kind of football team we have is exciting to do.″
North Carolina, entering the game with its highest ranking since 1983, moved to 3-0 for the first time since 1993, when the Tar Heels finished 10-3. The game created so much interest that some students were turned away from a standing-room crowd for only the second time in school history.
``There aren’t too many teams undefeated at this time of the year and we’re excited about it,″ Brown said. ``This has been much more satisfying (than the 1993 start) because I think all three of these teams we have played will end up in bowl games.″
Georgia Tech (2-1, 2-1), hurt by a series of first-half mistakes, fell to 0-8-1 in Kenan Stadium since joining the ACC.
The North Carolina defense, ranked No. 2 in the nation, threw a shutout in the first half for the third straight game as the Tar Heels went up 16-0 at intermission. North Carolina led Clemson 10-0 and Syracuse 17-0 at halftime in its first two wins.
Georgia Tech did drive to the North Carolina 19 on the opening drive of the second half and were trying to make a game of it, but redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Hamilton bobbled the snap on a fourth-and-1 play and the Tar Heels’ defense held. A deflated Georgia Tech offense, which came into the game averaging 298 yards on the ground, walked off the field shaking its head.
``Last year we went down there and they just demolished (the defense),″ North Carolina linebacker Kivuusama Mays said of a 27-25 loss in Atlanta. ``They just lined up and played football and ran it down our throats. We take pride in being the physical unit. So, every time we went back out there today we said, `It’s time to party, let’s get it on.‴
Hamilton had completed 26-of-33 passes in his first two Georgia Tech starts, but didn’t complete a pass in the first 30 minutes and the North Carolina defense held Georgia Tech rushers to only 56 yards.
``I think good players bounce back the next game after a game like this and I hope to have a good game next week against Duke,″ said Hamilton, who finished 4-for-14 with three interceptions.
``He has to learn from this game,″ Georgia Tech coach George O’Leary said of Hamilton, who threw for only 62 yards. ``I don’t want him to forget anything. You should never forget about losses.″
With North Carolina leading 3-0, the Yellow Jackets made three critical mistakes on their first possession of the second quarter that turned the game around.
Part of Harvey Middleton’s 41-yard punt return to the North Carolina 26 was negated by a holding penalty. Two plays later, Hamilton raced 42 yards to the North Carolina 7, but that play also was called back for holding.
``To beat a team like North Carolina you can’t have mistakes on big plays like that,″ said Hamilton.
Hamilton, cool under pressure in wins over N.C. State and Wake Forest, then threw one he wished he could get back. On a third-and-22 play and with Teto Simpson harassing him from behind, Hamilton lobbed a pass out in the flat, but North Carolina cornerback Dre’ Bly stepped in front of the intended receiver at midfield and picked it off.
Bly’s 44-yard return set up Keldorf’s first scoring pass to Freddie Jones, who made a spectacular one-handed catch on a high throw by Keldorf. The Yellow Jackets also lost talented fullback Charles Wiley on the play with a sprained left knee.
Late in the half, the North Carolina defense bottled up the struggling Yellow Jackets offense, forcing a punt from the end zone and giving the Tar Heels the ball at the Georgia Tech 37.
Keldorf then completed passes of 8 and 5 yards before finding wide-open Na Brown from 24 yards out 30 seconds before intermission.
Bly added two more second-half interceptions as the Yellow Jackets turned the ball over five times. The Tar Heels, 105th in the nation last year in turnover margin, have now forced 11 turnovers in three games.