CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Virginia coach Mike London had just watched his team self-destruct in the closing minutes, turning a critical victory into a devastating defeat, and he knew he couldn't heap all the blame on the players.
"What is disappointing is the way this game unfolded, with a team that has shown progress and execution," London said after Virginia lost 28-27 to North Carolina on a blown-coverage touchdown pass with 4:05 remaining, and then a series of additional mistakes that prevented them from recovering.
"Today we were not good enough. I did not do a good enough job coaching. Coaches didn't do a good enough job coaching their players. And the result is a loss," London said with anger in his voice.
When Williams' helmet came off on the play, NCAA rules mandated that the Tar Heels' star also leave the field for one play, and backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky trotted on for the first time all day.
"We were pretty excited," defensive tackle David Dean said. "It was a great play by Eli. We thought with the backup coming in, we could definitely take advantage of that, but that wasn't the case."
Instead, a miscommunication in the secondary allowed T.J. Thorpe to run free, and he caught a 16-yard touchdown pass with no one near him. Place kicker Nick Weiler's PAT made it 28-27, but 4:05 remained.
And then North Carolina did an onside kick, and recovered, and ate 3 minutes off the clock.
The Tar Heels faced a fourth-and-1 at the 20, and were poised to send Weiler, who had missed twice previously, out for a 37-yard attempt, but Virginia was penalized for having 12 men on the field.
First down, Tar Heels, and game over.
North Carolina (4-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) won its fifth straight in the series.
Virginia (4-4, 2-2), which had kept the explosive Williams and North Carolina scoreless to that point in the second half, lost its second straight and faces a daunting gauntlet of games the rest of the way.
Quarterback Greyson Lambert, whose interception set up the winning drive, directed an offense in shootout mode before halftime in building a 24-21 lead, but which stopped itself after halftime.
"In the second half, we didn't execute what we wanted to," he said.
Lambert, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with an ankle injury, had been sharp until that play, but the Cavaliers' last two scoring drives stalled and resulted in field goals.
He had two big completions — 24 yards to Canaan Severin to convert a third-and-10 from the Virginia 28, and a 42-yarder to Darius Jennings — as Virginia went ahead 21-14. Jennings' catch brought the ball to the 5, and Lambert hit Kevin Parks for a 2-yard reception two plays later to give Virginia the lead.
It lasted four plays.
Williams hit Jack Tabb for 22-yards on a third-and-8 play from his 15, then found Hollins behind safety Anthony Harris for a 63-yard scoring play. Williams released the ball as linebacker Henry Coley leveled him and had to be helped up, but Hollins made a gorgeous fingertip catch on the play.
The Cavaliers led 24-21 at halftime after Ian Frye's 31-yard field goal with 28 seconds left.
Williams did little on the Tar Heels first two series, then did plenty, and fast.
Trailing 14-0, he kept the ball on a read option and went 48 yards untouched for the touchdown, capping a four-play, 75-yard drive that took 45 seconds. After Virginia's first three-and-out, the Tar Heels needed just two plays, the second Williams' 52-yard scoring pass to Mack Hollins, to make it 14-all.
On the play, Hollins beat cornerback Maurice Canady and dodged a tackle by safety Anthony Harris.
The Tar Heels started their next two drives in Virginia territory, but Nick Weiler missed a 39-yard field goal try on the first, and David Dean sacked Williams on fourth down to end the second one.
The Cavaliers made North Carolina's defense look like the 124th-worst on their first two possessions, driving 66 yards in nine plays to Lambert's 31-yard scoring pass to Canaan Severin, and then 90 yards in nine plays to Kevin Parks' 2-yard touchdown run. Lambert had completions of 22 yards to Miles Gooch anon third-and-8 and then caught a 23-yard pass from Gooch two plays later on the second drive.
The Cavaliers, at that point, had a 141-5 yardage advantage, but that changed quickly.
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