With a 21-0 lead at the 4:34 mark in the second quarter, all signs pointed to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets having the bounce-back game they needed after two consecutive ugly losses to Notre Dame and Duke.
Those signs weren't correct.
The North Carolina Tar Heels followed the 21 unanswered points by the Jackets with a 38-10 run to pick up their first win in Atlanta since a 1997 win with Mack Brown as the head coach.
An 8-game, 17-year streak was broken, and Georgia Tech did just about everything it could to miss out on every opportunity to win the game.
"I thought we had plenty of chances," said Paul Johnson. "You have to give them credit. They made plays when they had to and came back and won the game."
The pinnacle of missed opportunities came at the start of the fourth quarter. Up 28-24, the Jackets had the ball at the 1-yard line on 3rd-and-goal with an opportunity to take an 11-point lead. Two QB follows later, the Tar Heel defense had forced a huge stop to get the ball back and deny a two-possession game. The Jackets defense stepped up though, and a shanked punt gave the offense the ball right back on the UNC 36-yard line. But on first down, Justin Thomas fumbled the ball away, and North Carolina scored on its first snap after the recovery with a 37-yard touchdown off of a double-reverse pass from wide receiver Quinshad Davis to quarterback Marquise Williams.
"It was a quarterback follow, and the offensive line blocked down and backed in and didn't block out," Johnson said about the failed 4th-and-goal attempt. "Story of our season. We kind of let it slip away. [We] had it on the goal line, and then we came back with a short field and couldn't do anything. We struggled to stop them."
After failing to get anything going offensively, the Tech defense needed a stop late in the 4th quarter with North Carolina driving into opposing territory. On 4th-and-5 from the Tech 27-yard line, Marquise Williams scampered for the touchdown to put the Tar Heels up by 10 points with 4:52 remaining.
The Jackets went through the air on the following drive to quickly get in scoring range, and Harrison Butker connected on a 37-yard field goal with 2:46 left to get within a touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tech went for the onside kick, and Brant Mitchell made the play on the ball to allow a Jacket to recover it. Unfortunately, Mitchell touched the ball just a yard too early, and the Tar Heels took possession.
The Tech defense forced a stop though, and the UNC kicker missed a 47-yard field goal with just over a minute remaining to give the Jackets life.
With no timeouts left, Tech was unable to get much going, and a final Hail Mary failed as North Carolina beat Georgia Tech 38-31.
One of the biggest turning points in the game was early in the 2nd quarter with Tech leading 14-0. On the first play of UNC's drive, Adam Gotsis delivered a big hit to Williams for a sack. With Gotsis being a very large man, his helmet inevitably clipped Williams' helmet in an unmalicious fashion. Despite that, the refs threw a flag and ejected Gotsis for targeting. The defensive line was getting pressure with Gotsis in the game, but there was none to speak of after his departure.
"They don't give you an explanation," Johnson said when asked what the referees explained to him. "They just say it's targeting. We're not a very good pass rushing team with four guys. We just aren't."
"Gotsis is a big part of our defense, so it was a big hit," Jamal Golden said. "It is all about the next man up. One man goes down, the next man comes in, and he is expected to do just as well as the guy in front of him."
With the team now sitting at 2-3, the expectations of the team before the season are already unreachable for the most part. A challenging schedule lies ahead, and the team is in a place where they have to resettle and focus on the next game up - on the road at Clemson.
"The first thing is that we have to make an adjustment of goals, and that is always disappointing," Trey Braun said. "I know that we do not have any give-up in us. You have to feel the pain a little bit so that it drives you forward. This senior class, we had high aspirations, and it is something that we have to adjust going forward. That is always painful, but you have to feel that pain, and you have to let it move you forward."