CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -North Carolina's defense hung in against Georgia Tech's triple-option attack long enough for the offense
to finally get moving. It was enough to give the No. 19
a critical win in their muddled Atlantic Coast Conference division race.
ran for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to help North Carolina beat the 22nd-ranked
28-7 on Saturday, ensuring their first winning season in seven years.
added two touchdown passes for the
(7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), while
had a touchdown catch and set the school record for career receiving yardage in the final period.
North Carolina also used a strong 1-2 rushing attack with Houston and
, and converted a pair of fumbles into touchdowns to break the game open late.
North Carolina matched its victory total of the previous two seasons combined.
''One of the things that you're always concerned about is how you handle success when you've never had it,'' second-year coach
Butch Davis said. ''A very important part of the growth process is we really need to enjoy the moment. But when they come
in to watch that film, it's as if this game never happened.''
were already enjoying their most successful season in a decade and their first bowl eligibility in four years. Yet they were
more focused on what awaited them coming out of last week's break, primarily the chance to stay alive in a division race that
entered the day with five two-loss teams.
But the break served an even more vital role: providing the defense extra time to prepare for the offense that Georgia Tech
brought from Navy.
It was clear the
were prepared; Georgia Tech couldn't sustain a scoring drive nor push deeper than the
's 85-yard touchdown run - the longest rush allowed by North Carolina - with 6 minutes left.
By then, however, the
already had a 21-0 lead.
''Seeing it for two weeks definitely played a part,'' said linebacker
, who recovered the second of the two game-turning fumbles. ''Everybody knew their assignment and carried it out and we were
able to put ourselves in position to slow them down a little bit.''
Dwyer, the league's No. 2 rusher, ran for 157 yards for the
(7-3, 4-3), who finished with 326 yards rushing and 423 total yards.
But they did themselves in with several miscues that kept them scoreless until the game was out of reach - none bigger than
the back-to-back turnovers in the third and fourth quarters.
There were also two missed field goals and two failed fourth-and-short conversion attempts in the first half.
''I just see it as we didn't come ready to play,'' Georgia Tech quarterback
said, ''and they beat us from start to finish.''
North Carolina's offense didn't give its defense much help, getting Sexton's touchdown pass to
on the opening drive but little else for the next two-plus quarters. That is, until Georgia Tech's
muffed a punt that was recovered by
30 late in the third quarter.
North Carolina converted quickly, getting an 8-yard run from Draughn to help set up Houston's 2-yard score that made it 14-0
with 13:57 to play.
on a keeper and Paschal recovered the fumble on the ensuing possession. Houston converted again, running four straight times
before bouncing off a hit from
at the goalline for a 3-yard score that pushed the lead to 21 points with 10:49 left.
''We play better when the defense is making a big stop or creating a turnover,'' Houston said. ''We thrive on that. That's
why I wish we'd kick off every time (to start the game) because we get a spark off of it.''
Johnson said the fumbles blew any chance Georgia Tech had left.
''We fumble it away then we go back out there and lay it on the ground on the very next series,'' he said. ''Lights out.''
Draughn finished with 90 yards rushing and Houston had a career-high 74 to offset a shaky passing day from Sexton, who went
just 7-for-16 for 100 yards.
But Sexton found Nicks for an easy 31-yard score on fourth down with 4:11 left to seal it, and Nicks set the receiving record
with a 22-yard catch a little later from T.J. Yates, making his first appearance in relief from a broken ankle suffered in
September against Virginia Tech.