CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Mike Hollins ran for three touchdowns and Malik Washington had the go-ahead scoring catch in the fourth quarter to help Virginia upset No. 10 North Carolina 31-27 on Saturday night, shaking up the Atlantic Coast Conference race with its first road win against a top-10 opponent.
James Jackson had the clinching interception with 26 seconds left, picking off UNC star quarterback Drake Maye as Maye was hit by Paul Akere with the Tar Heels (6-1, 3-1) reaching midfield on a drive for a winning score.
Instead, Virginia players started spilling onto the field to celebrate, while Jackson ran all the way down the field to the end zone in his own jubilation.
Washington pushed the Cavaliers (2-5, 1-2) over the top, taking a short feed from Tony Muskett and then turning toward the end zone to push across the goal line with 8:51 left while shrugging off multiple bad tackle attempts by UNC defenders.
Washington quickly began to celebrate by raising both arms to flex his biceps, which was appropriate considering the way Virginia repeatedly ran the ball at and through the Tar Heels despite coming in as one of the nation’s most anemic ground attacks.
Virginia came in averaging 99.5 yards rushing per game, worst in the ACC and 122nd in the Bowl Subdivision ranks. But Virginia ran for a season-high 228 yards, with Hollins, Muskett and Perris Jones all running for at least 60 yards.
As for the Tar Heels, it was a stunning stumble for a team that had looked as possibly the ACC’s best team behind a star quarterback discussed as a Heisman Trophy candidate in Maye.
Maye threw for 347 yards and two touchdowns, including a fourth one in two games to Devontez “Tez” Walker, who had 11 catches for 146 yards. But Maye completed just half of his passes (24 for 48), repeatedly missing throws while the Tar Heels never found the high-scoring form from recent romps in the program’s best start in 26 years.
Hollins scored twice on first-quarter runs, then added a tough 1-yard score in the third quarter that capped a critical drive after UNC had pushed ahead by 10. He very nearly had a fourth rushing score with a chance to put Virginia up two scores, but was stripped of the ball before crossing the goal line and the ball ultimately bounced straight out the back of the end zone with 4:50 left.
Yet Virginia’s defense hung in, with Maye throwing incomplete for Walker on the sideline inside the 10-yard line on fourth down to end the ensuing drive. UNC ended up with one last chance, forcing a punt to get the ball back to Maye with 1:12 left and no timeouts — only to see Jackson haul in Virginia’s cliching takeaway.
It was hard to imagine this kind of outcome, too, considering Virginia’s lone win had come against William & Mary of the Championship Subdivision ranks before last week’s open date. Not to mention UNC had scored at least 31 points in every game and cracked 40 four times, while Maye and the offense had seemingly been picking up steam in recent wins with Walker being cleared to play after a lengthy NCAA eligibility debate.
None of that mattered though, as Virginia celebrated on UNC’s field as the clock hit all zeroes.
Virginia: Maybe the Cavaliers are finding something with their ground game. They had 221 yards in the William & Mary win on Oct. 7, then topped that by running effectively all night against a UNC run defense that ranked fifth in the ACC (113.8).
UNC: The Tar Heels had been adding to what has been their best start since winning the first eight games in 1997, which was the last season in Mack Brown’s first coaching tenure at UNC before leaving for Texas. The talk has been on playing for an ACC title and maybe pushing for a College Football Playoff berth by completing that run. Things look very different now after a head-scratcher of a loss as a big favorite.
Expect UNC to tumble in Sunday’s new AP Top 25 — significantly.
Virginia: The Cavaliers visit Miami on Saturday.
UNC: The Tar Heels visit Georgia Tech on Saturday after losing to the Yellow Jackets in each of the past two seasons.