Virginia tops Tar Heels in offensive explosion

North Carolina’s Rontavius Groves takes a seat on the bench as Virginia runs out the clock to secure a 38-31 victory during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)

CHAPEL HILL — Virginia and North Carolina threw defense aside and had a who-gets-the-ball-last slugfest in Kenan Stadium on Saturday night.

For the eighth time in nine games, UNC’s game came down to the final moments and a one-score difference. For the fifth time this year, the Tar Heels came out on the short end, losing a 38-31 shootout to Virginia.

The win helps restore some order to the wild ACC Coastal as it allowed the Cavaliers, the preseason pick to win the division, to retake sole possession of first place in the division. Virginia has now posted wins over the top three contenders in the division — Duke, Pitt and Carolina — which should help lock up any tiebreaker scenarios.

Virginia entered with the second-best total defense in the ACC and third-best scoring defense. The game was the Cavaliers’ shakiest defensive outing of the year, however.

North Carolina gained 539 yards, 179 more than Virginia had given up in a game previously. The 69 total points scored were the most in the series since a 56-24 Virginia win in 2004, and it was just the second time in the 125-year history of the series that both teams topped 30 points. The previous time was a 44-40 Virginia win in 1973.

Freshman quarterback Sam Howell continued to rewrite the UNC freshman record book, throwing for 353 yards and four touchdowns. His 26 scoring passes tie Brad Kaaya for third most by an ACC freshman, after he passed Chris Rix and Philip Rivers in the game. Howell’s scoring passes were for 47, 34, 50 and 42 yards.

Howell’s primary target was Dyami Brown, who had six catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns, tying a school record for touchdown catches in a game.

He was matched by Virginia’s Bryce Perkins, however, who shredded the Carolina defense by passing for 378 yards on 30-of-39 accuracy, with three touchdowns. He also rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard run to start the third quarter that gave Virginia a lead it never relinquished.

Virginia became bowl-eligible at 6-3 with the win. The Cavaliers still have ACC games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech as they try to wrap up the Coastal title and an ACC Championship Game date with Clemson.

North Carolina dropped to 4-5 and now must win two of its final three to become bowl-eligible. The Heels play FCS foe Mercer. Assuming they win that, Carolina will have to win a road game at Pitt or NC State to make the postseason.