Virginia beats N. Carolina 20-14; its best start since 2007
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Virginia is starting to get the hang of winning.
Kurt Benkert passed for 249 yards and two touchdowns to help the Cavaliers beat North Carolina 20-14 on Saturday.
"In the past years, we didn't pull these games out," Virginia wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus said. "We're just confident in what we're capable of doing. There's never like a worry or a fret or anything. We're just confident, and we keep playing."
Jordan Ellis rushed for a career-high 136 yards for the Cavaliers (5-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who are off to their best start since 2007. Virginia snapped its seven-game losing streak against North Carolina with its fourth consecutive victory overall.
Chris Peace sacked North Carolina's Brandon Harris on fourth down with 1:07 left to seal the win.
The Cavaliers took the lead for good on an 81-yard touchdown catch by Zaccheaus in the third quarter.
A week after the Cavaliers outlasted Duke 28-21, they controlled the ball for nearly 40 minutes and ran 25 more plays than North Carolina.
They scored just one touchdown in four trips inside the red zone, so it wasn't a pretty performance. But it was effective.
"If that is our brand at this stage of the program's development, then that's our brand," Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Freshman Michael Carter rushed for a season-high 157 yards and two touchdowns for North Carolina (1-6, 0-4). Carter ran for 127 yards and both of his scores in the third quarter as the Tar Heels came back from a 10-0 halftime deficit.
North Carolina lost its fourth straight game despite a change at quarterback.
Chazz Surratt, who had started each of North Carolina's last five games, did not play. Harris replaced him, completing 7 of 18 passes for 46 yards and three interceptions.
The Tar Heels went scoreless in the first half for the second time in three weeks. They had just four first downs and 75 yards of offense at halftime to go along with five penalties for 46 yards.
Virginia: The Cavaliers banked another win in their quest to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2011. With a tough final month that includes home games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech as well as trips to Louisville and Miami, Virginia would be well advised to find its sixth win as soon as possible.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels are in big trouble, and their streak of four consecutive seasons with a bowl game is going to end. They have at least one more win on their schedule (Western Carolina on Nov. 18), but the probability of suffering double-digit losses for the first time since 2003 is growing each week.
"I'm proud of the effort that our guys are playing with," North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. "I told them that I'm proud of them. We've got to find a way to get over the hump."
Ellis notched the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, averaging 5 yards per carry on his 27 attempts. Virginia was 3 for 3 on fourth down, and Ellis converted each of those opportunities with bruising runs. The first led to a field goal, and the second led to a touchdown.
"Jordan Ellis is tough," Mendenhall said. "I think he probably had the most impact on the game of anyone on our team."
QB OR NOT QB?
Fedora said Surratt was available to play if the Tar Heels had needed him, but he said Harris had a better week of practice. In Surratt's absence, the Tar Heels finished with their fewest passing yards since 2000.
The Tar Heels faced fourth-and-9 from the Virginia 37 on their final play. Peace appeared to momentarily grab Harris' facemask before taking him to the ground. No penalty was called, much to the chagrin of the home crowd at Kenan Stadium.
Did Peace feel like he got away with one?
"Maybe, maybe not," he said.
Would he like to see a replay?
"Nah," Peace said with a smile. "The game's over."
Virginia: The Cavaliers host Boston College on Saturday in the teams' first meeting since 2010. Virginia is 0-5 all-time against the Eagles.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to No. 15 Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Hokies lead the series 10-3 since 2004.