Logan Thomas did all his damage in the first half. His defense did the rest.
Thomas matched his career high with three touchdown passes, all before halftime, and the Hokies made big plays on defense when they needed to in a 27-17 victory against North Carolina on Saturday.
"I was just happy to have a good first half, but I would have liked to see the same thing in the second half," Thomas said. He hit Demitri Knowles for a 45-yard TD and D.J. Coles from 9 and 5 yards, but the Hokies had just 64 yards after halftime.
Instead, Thomas got to see Kyle Fuller made the biggest play of the game, intercepting a fourth-down pass to end a threat by the Tar Heels, and controlling dual threat quarterback Marquise Williams until the final minutes.
"I really like the way we played," linebacker Jack Tyler said after holding the Tar Heels to 376 yards. "I think we played hard all week in practice even though we have been patted on the back here lately. I don't see any complaints or anything like that. We just come to practice every day with the same motivation — we want to be the best defense in the country."
The victory was the fifth in a row for the Hokies (5-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), and avenged a 48-34 loss at Chapel Hill, N.C., last season when the Tar Heels embarrassed Bud Foster's defense by rushing for 339 yards.
The loss was the third straight for the Tar Heels (1-4, 0-2), who pulled a surprise by starting Williams in place of Bryn Renner, who injured his left foot last week. Williams played well, until he threw deep for Jack Tabb on fourth-and-1.
"I kinda had a feeling they had something up their sleeve and it just came down to reading my key and I felt the guy release and tried to make the play on the ball," Fuller said of his interception. "It happened in slow motion."
Williams, who was 23 for 35 for 277 yards, said he should have never thrown the ball.
"I should have just rolled on out and kept it and tried to get the first down," he said.
Williams, 6-foor-2 and 215 pounds, also led the Tar Heels in rushing with 56 yards on 18 attempts.
The Tar Heels' Ryan Switzer later fumbled a punt, leading to the Hokies' final touchdown on a 1-yard run by Trey Edmunds with 4:06 remaining, rendering Williams' 24-yard scoring pass to Quinshad Davis with 1:09 left inconsequential.
"Looking back on this game and take away two plays, it's a whole different ballgame," NC cornerback Jabari Price said. "You have to be perfect when you're playing good teams like this."
The first half was all Thomas and receivers Willie Byrn, Knowles and Coles. Thomas completed 13 of 20 passes in the half for 230 yards, accounting for most of the Hokies' 277 yards. He finished the day 19 for 28 for 293 yards.
Thomas hit Byrn for 17 yards one play before Knowles got free behind the Tar Heels' secondary for a 45-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring. After another punt by North Carolina, the Hokies drove 73 yards in 12 plays capped by Thomas' first of two TD passes to Coles, a 9-yard bullet on third down.
Byrn caught an 18-yard pass on that drive, converting a third-and-10 from the Tar Heels' 27.
North Carolina had gained just 26 yards on 12 plays, but Davis took a short pass 40 yards to the Hokies' 35. A 16-yard completion to T.J. Thorpe followed, and Williams later capped the drive with a 6-yard pass to Eric Ebron for the touchdown.
Late in the half, the Tar Heels seemingly had momentum on their side and pinned the Hokies at their 2 yard-line with a punt, but Thomas found Byrn behind the secondary and hit him for an 83-yard play, the third-longest in school history that didn't end in a touchdown. Three plays later, Thomas found Coles for a 5-yard touchdown to make it 21-7.
The Hokies bogged down in the second half, but the defense had it covered.