The team once known as the VPI Gobblers, erupted for three third quarter touchdowns to break open a close game on back-to-back-to-back rushing touchdowns by tailbacks' Cedric Humes and freshman Branden Ore.
Mike Imoh, who rushed for 243 yards in Va. Tech's win over the Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium last season, was a late scratch due to a sprained left ankle he suffered versus Boston College.
It didn't matter. The pre-game scouting report said the Hokies would try to run the ball down the throat of the Carolina defense and that's exactly what happened.
The senior Humes (134 yards – career-high) and the freshman Ore (104) led Va. Tech to a 277 total on the ground, while the Tar Heels managed 33 of their 36 total rushing yards in the first quarter.
"You've got to give [Humes] a lot of credit," UNC defensive end Chase Page said. "He was falling forward for way too many yards. We weren't really pushing the pile back the way we should have."
Ronnie McGill, who ran for 33 yards on five carries in the opening period, finished with only 34 net rushing yards.
Thus, UNC (5-6, 4-4 ACC) sees its season come to a disappointing end, while the Hokies (10-1, 7-1) advance to the Dr. Pepper ACC Football Championship in Jacksonville, Fla. next week to take on unranked Florida State for the right to represent the conference in a BCS bowl.
Carolina's defense, which forced two turnovers in the first half, entered deep into Va. Tech territory on three occasions before having to settle for a 6-3 deficit at halftime.
It was a bittersweet intermission however, as the Tar Heels blew a golden opportunity to take the lead into the locker room when the usually sure-handed Jesse Holley dropped a sure touchdown pass with 11 seconds to go.
"That's a victory for that defense and the whole team, when you can throw an interception like that and get away with only three," Matt Baker said referring to effect of Holley's drop. "That kind of turned momentum on both sides a little bit."
Instead, UNC had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Connor Barth, who had an earlier attempt blocked by all-conference defensive lineman Darryl Tapp.
"Darryl Tapp is a great player," Baker said.
Although it had just put its first points of the night on the scoreboard and were surprisingly hanging with the 23.5 point favored Hokies, momentum was still on the side of the Tar Heels' opponent.
Nobody felt worse about the halftime situation than Holley.
"It's real tough," Holley said. "We have great players on this team. We have great senior leadership, and for us to go out on this note…I know it hurts myself and I know it hurts them. We just have to get back to the drawing board, come back and compete next year."
Carolina got the ball back to start the second half, but could do nothing with it, and Va. Tech capitalized by dominating the third quarter.
"Unfortunately, like has happened several times this year, in the third quarter we don't get started very well," John Bunting said. "I wish I had an explanation for it, but I just don't know, and it's very, very frustrating to me, the staff and the players alike. I can't put a finger on it – don't know. It's something we'll have to try to figure out, because it happened over and over this year.
"When we get off to a poor start in the third quarter, things start snowballing the other way…short fields, backed up, a penalty or two, a missed pass or two… Looking back on the first half, we could have had seven points or maybe 10 points. A field goal blocked, a dropped ball for a touchdown…those are the plays you've got to make in a huge game like this against a really good opponent."
In his season finale in his one-year as the Tar Heels' starting quarterback, Baker completed 15 of 41 passing attempts for 160 yards. However, his final game won't be his most memorable. Although he was sacked just three times, he was hit frequently.
"There was someone back there on almost every play," Baker said. "Their defensive line played great today."
The Hokies were the sixth ranked team the Tar Heels faced in 2005.
Bunting now begins work on his sixth season at the helm of the Carolina football program with a 24-36-0 record.