CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Zach Gibson threw for 174 yards and Georgia Tech scored 21 straight points for a 21-17 road win against No. 13 North Carolina on Saturday.
Gibson, a transfer from Akron, got the start Saturday with former starter Jeff Sims nursing a foot injury and No. 1 backup Zach Pyron out with a broken collarbone. Clemson transfer Taisun Phommachanh also took some 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, making them the third team since the 1978 FBS-FCS split to win twice in the same season as a 21-point underdog, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. They also beat Pittsburgh earlier this season as a 21.5-point underdog.
Georgia Tech (5-6, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) trailed 17-0 late in the first half, but started to methodically move the ball. All three of its scoring drives were for 68-plus yards and culminated with rushing touchdowns.
A 6-yard score on the ground by Hassan Hall with just over 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter proved to be the ticket for the Yellow Jackets, who kept their bowl hopes alive and improved to 4-3 under interim coach Brent Key.
“I don’t think there was anyone in the locker room that could tell you that it was 17-0,” Key said. “That is who this team is. Regardless of the score, adversity and what takes place in a game, they take it one play at a time.”
North Carolina (9-2, 6-1 ACC) was riding a six-game winning streak and clinched 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-11 pass from quarterback Drake Maye in the end zone with just over four minutes remaining.
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 sacked a season-high six times by Georgia Tech, three of which came via Keion White.
After UNC went ahead 17-0 with a little more than three minutes left in the first half, Georgia Tech held the Heels to 97 yards of offense on their final 33 plays.
“I thought we were mature enough to play in what would be called a trap game,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “I thought we were beyond that after Virginia, but we obviously weren’t. I thought we did a poor job of preparing them and didn’t play well enough to win.”
Georgia Tech: For the second time this season, the Yellow Jackets looked unfazed on the road against a ranked opponent. Georgia Tech’s balanced effort on offense (187 passing yards and 186 rushing yards) stymied 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 much of the night. After running back Elijah Green’s 80-yard rushing score on their first play from scrimmage, they amassed only 285 yards the rest of the night and scored just 10 points on four red-zone visits.
The Tar Heels are likely to see a considerable drop after falling to a Georgia Tech team that had lost three of its past four. The loss also effectively ends any outside shot the Tar Heels had at eyeing the College Football Playoffs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.