CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -- This time, there was no wasting a great start.
Less than a week after blowing a 20-0 halftime lead in a 28-26 loss to Maryland, Virginia played almost mistake-free Thursday night and rode the power running of Jason Snelling to a 23-0 victory against inept North Carolina.
Snelling ran for a career-best 131 yards and a touchdown, Jameel Sewell was again sharp at quarterback and the defense played its best game of the season, finally avoiding the big plays that haunted the Cavaliers in losing four of their last five.
"When you get a lead, good teams go in for the kill," defensive end Chris Long said. "Good teams get more aggressive and that's what we stressed at halftime."
Leading 9-0 at the break, the Cavaliers (3-5, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) had two of their three takeaways in the second half to set up touchdown runs by Snelling and Sewell and never allowed the Tar Heels to get anything going on offense.
"We wanted to come out with the mind-set of 'Let's build off of last week but let's not forget that we lost the game in the second half,'" linebacker Clint Sintim said.
The Tar Heels (1-6, 0-4), whose only victory was a 45-42 nailbiter against Division I-AA Furman, have lost 12 straight at Scott Stadium since their last win in 1981. North Carolina ran for 98 yards, passed for 84 and had eight penalties and 11 first downs.
"This is the way we like out team to look," Virginia coach Al Groh said.
It helped that Snelling and a maligned offensive line made the game plan work.
"It felt great," the senior said. "I'm the type of person that if they're going to give me the ball, I'm going to embrace it. They did tonight and I loved it."
Snelling carried 19 times against a defense that came into the game allowing more than 200 rushing yards per game, 113th out of 119 Division I-A schools.
"Some of those runs were real warrior runs," Groh said.
Snelling has drawn criticism as the top back in a ground game averaging just 92 yards coming in, but he had 61 yards by halftime and punished the Tar Heels. He had bruising runs of 25 and 17 yards and a 5-yard touchdown run that capped the scoring.
"It opens up a lot of things when you can pound a defense like that," Sewell said.
Sewell ran for 40 yards, including an 18-yard TD run when he had Snelling to his outside on an option, but instead kept the ball, cut upfield and to the end zone.
Just as he had been a week earlier against the Terrapins, Sewell came out sharp, showing signs that the coaching staff's patience with the redshirt freshman is starting to pay off. He finished the half 11-for-18 but had at least four other passes dropped,
including one by Kevin Ogletree downfield with lots of open space in front of him.
But with the defense playing well and Sewell seemingly more in control than in his four previous starts, the missteps only delayed assuring their second win in six games.
The game was the 111th meeting between the schools, the South's oldest rivalry.
The Cavaliers kept the Tar Heels off the board in the first quarter when Chris Cook caused a fumble by Ronnie McGill at the Virginia 21 and Jeffrey Fitzgerald recovered.
Cook also intercepted a pass to set up a 19-yard, fourth-quarter TD drive, and the Cavaliers halted another drive when Joe Dailey's swing pass that went behind Brooks Foster was ruled a lateral and Nate Lyle recovered for Virginia at its own 45.
Four plays later, after a dump off pass to Tom Santi went for 30 yards to the Tar Heels 21, Sewell rolled right on the option, kept the ball and cut upfield for the touchdown, his second in two games. Last week, he scored on a 36-yard draw play.
Sewell finished 17-for-25 for 166 yards and connected with eight receivers.
The Cavaliers drove deep into North Carolina territory three times in the first half but came away only with field goals of 31, 43 and 43 yards by Chris Gould.
For the Tar Heels, the losing is getting old, said quarterback Cam Sexton. He was 3-for-8 for 22 yards in the first half before getting replaced by Dailey.
"It's just all about feeling, sitting around and feeling the same way after these games is tough," Sexton said. "You've got to move on, move past it and work past it."
With five games left, starting at home against Wake Forest next week and with games against No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 13 Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels need to win out to qualify for a bowl, and Sexton said a bowl game is still the goal.
"I really believe that," he said.