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Final: Virginia Tech 24, North Carolina 21

11/17/2011

The burden of proof now belongs to Virginia.

Virginia Tech survived a fourth-quarter rally by North Carolina, winning 24-21, to further secure its position atop the Coastal Division standings. The win puts rival Virginia in a must-win situation on Saturday at Florida State. If the Cavaliers lose to the Noles, Virginia Tech will clinch its fifth Coastal Division crown.

Now it's the Hokies' turn to sit back and watch.

North Carolina had plenty of opportunities to leave Lane Stadium with a win on Thursday night, but the Tar Heels came up short one too many times, giving the Hokies their eighth straight season of at least 10 wins. Virginia Tech's defense -- save for one big bust in the secondary in the fourth quarter that led to North Carolina's final touchdown -- was consistently good. The passing game was on the money, they converted 9 of 16 third downs and the Hokies had the better collective effort on special teams. Virginia Tech's play calling was also a positive factor, as the Hokies' ability to work the ball to the receivers on the perimeter helped offset some struggles the running game was having inside. Bottom line: The Hokies won in all four phases of the game.

North Carolina, though, deserves a lot of credit. The defense was relentless for four quarters. Defensive end Quinton Coples was one of the few players who has been able to bring down quarterback Logan Thomas. Linebacker Zach Brown made a lot of plays, and they held the Hokies scoreless for two quarters. Two missed field goals, a botched onside kick and a costly fumble in the red zone were just a few of the mistakes that added up. It also didn't help that leading rusher Giovani Bernard left the game early with concussion-like symptoms.

This game lived up to the billing of one vital to the Coastal Division standings, and the final score illustrated just how closely contested the ACC race is.

And it's not over yet.