CHAPEL HILL, NC — Zach Gibson threw for 174 yards and Georgia Tech notched 21 straight points for a 21-17 away win over No. 13 North Carolina on Saturday.
Gibson, a transfer from Akron, started Saturday with former starter Jeff Sims, who sustained a foot injury, and No. 1 backup Zach Pyron, with a broken collarbone. Clemson transfer Taisun Phommachanh also grabbed a few snaps, running for a score and helping Georgia Tech milk the clock late in the fourth.
The Yellow Jackets were a 21-point underdog at Caesars Sportsbook, becoming the third team since the FBS-FCS split in 1978 to win twice as a 21-point underdog in the same season, according to an investigation by ESPN Stats & Information. They also beat Pittsburgh as a 21.5-point underdog earlier this season.
Georgia Tech (Atlantic Coast Conference 5-6, 4-4) was down 17-0 late in the first half but began moving the ball methodically. All three scoring drives were for more than 68 yards and culminated in rushing touchdowns.
A 6-yard score on the floor by Hassan Hall with just over 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter proved the ticket to the Yellow Jackets, who kept their bowl hopes alive and settled to 4- under interim coach Brent Key. 3 improved.
“I don’t think anyone in the locker room could tell you it was 17-0,” Key said. “That’s who this team is. Regardless of the score, the odds and what happens in a game, they take it one game at a time.”
North Carolina (9-2, 6-1 ACC) was on a six-game winning streak to secure the ACC’s Coastal Division last week. The Tar Heels had a chance to regain the lead late in the fourth quarter, but Josh Downs dropped a 4th and 11th pass from quarterback Drake Maye in the end zone with just over four minutes to go.
Maye, who had emerged as a possible Heisman contender as a redshirt freshman, failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season. He was also fired six times by Georgia Tech, three of them via Keion White.
After UNC took a 17-0 lead by just over three minutes in the first half, Georgia Tech kept the heels on 97 yards of offense in their last 33 games.
“I thought we were mature enough to play in what’s called a trap game,” said UNC coach Mack Brown. “I thought we were beyond that after Virginia, but obviously we weren’t. I thought we prepared them poorly and didn’t play well enough to win.”
THE TAKE AWAY
Georgia Tech: For the second time this season, the Yellow Jackets looked unfazed on the road against a ranked opponent. Georgia Tech’s balanced offensive performance (187 passing yards and 186 rushing yards) handicapped UNC, and the Yellow Jacket defense did something few have done against UNC’s offense this year: limit the big plays and defend well in the red zone.
UNC: The Tar Heels looked flat on offense for most of the night. After running back Elijah Green’s 80-yard rushing score on their first pull from scrimmage, they rallied just 285 yards the rest of the night and scored just 10 points in four visits to the red zone.
The Tar Heels are likely to see a significant drop after falling to a Georgia Tech team that lost three of their last four. The loss also effectively ends every outside shot the Tar Heels had to keep tabs on the college football playoffs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.