Howell picked off 3 times as Virginia Tech downs No. 10 UNC in season opener

UNC

Virginia Tech’s Raheem Blackshear (5) runs while pursued by North Carolina’s Ja’Qurious Conley (0) and Eugene Asante (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WNCN) – Virginia Tech held what everyone expected to be a high-octane North Carolina offense in check Friday night in a 17-10 season-opening win.

The Hokies set the tone by marching down the field and scoring in less than five minutes in their opening drive. Braxton Burmeister and Raheem Blackshear connected for a 33-yard gain that put them in Tar Heel territory before Burmeister punched it in from 4 yards out.

Virginia Tech, maintaining firm control of the clock, doubled its lead to 14-0 with 3:07 left in the first half. Burmeister hit James Mitchell for the 11-yard touchdown that capped off a 7:19 drive.

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (7) is sacked by Virginia Tech’s Chamarri Conner (22) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Tenth-ranked UNC’s first four drives all ended with punts, including a pair of three-and-outs. The fifth ended when Sam Howell was picked off by Jermaine Waller.

The Tar Heels were able to cut the deficit in half when Howell and John Downs linked up for a 37-yard touchdown with 4:20 left in the third. The Hokie defense wouldn’t let the visitors amass any momentum, though, as UNC’s next two drives ended in a turnover on downs and an interception.

Grayson Atkins nailed a 31-yard field goal to put UNC within a touchdown, 17-10, with less than 6 minutes to play, but it wasn’t enough. Howell helped the Tar Heels into Hokie territory late in the fourth before he was picked off for a third time.

Burmeister was efficient in completing 12-of-19 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. He ran for 42 yards and a score, as well. Jalen Holston led Virginia Tech with 49 rushing yards.

UNC’s Ty Chandler ran for a game-high 66 yards on 10 carries.

UNC will aim to bounce back on Sept. 11 when it hosts Georgia State for its home opener. The Hokies welcome in Middle Tennessee State.

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