Kevin Parks talked about not getting the yard he needed for a touchdown on fourth down. Michael Rocco pointed to an underthrown pass that was intercepted for a touchdown. And Phillip Sims mentioned a pass that he floated into the hands of Darius Jennings for a certain 81-yard touchdown until Jennings dropped it.
Missed opportunities seemed on everyone's mind after Virginia lost 34-13 to North Carolina in a game that turned on a goal-line stand by the Tar Heels late in the third quarter with the score 20-13.
"We get it, it's a different ballgame," Parks said of the run that was stuffed Kareem Martin and Kevin Reddick. "I think it would have been a different story of a game. ... We didn't get in. It hurts."
The Cavaliers chances looked brighter when, trailing 27-13, Sims lofted the pass to the speedy Jennings behind the secondary. Jennings juggled the ball, bobbled it and watched as it hit the turf.
"It's just the story of the night, I guess you could say," Sims said.
Earlier, with Virginia trailing 14-10, Rocco threw toward Tim Smith, and Tar Heels safety Tre Boston made the pick and took it 36 yards for a touchdown, six easy points in a game the Cavaliers needed to win to maintain their postseason hopes. Instead, their season will end next weekend at Virginia Tech.
"It's a very quiet locker room in there with a lot of disappointment," coach Mike London said. "We've got to pick ourselves up and get ready to play one last football game."
Bryn Renner threw three touchdown passes for the Tar Heels, two in the fourth quarter after the big defensive stand. The first, a 23-yarder to a wide open Giovani Bernard, capped a 97-yard, 12-play drive.
It came one play after Renner hit Erik Highsmith for 5 yards on fourth-and-2.
The Tar Heels (7-4, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) then forced Virginia (4-7, 2-5) to punt, and five plays later, Renner's second touchdown pass to Highsmith — from 20 yards — finished it.
The Cavaliers had won two in a row and were hoping to win two more to qualify for a bowl game. They shut down Bernard, the ACC's runaway rushing leader, but were picked apart by Renner's precise passing.
He finished 29 for 36 for 315 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite target on the night was freshman Quinshad Davis, who caught 16 passes — tying the ACC record — for 178 yards.
The game looked as if it might become a classic in the oldest rivalry in the south, but the Cavaliers squandered other chances, too. They managed only a field goal after Bernard fumbled a punt at his own 12.
"That was huge for the defense, a big confidence boost for the whole team," Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said.
Virginia trailed 14-3 early but closed to 14-10 on a nifty third-down scramble by Sims, who avoided a sack, rolled right and found Jennings in the end zone from 9 yards out. Sims also had a 13-yard run on third-and-9 at the start of the drive, and Parks powered for a yard to convert on fourth-and-1.
The Tar Heels answered by driving to the Cavaliers 15, where Renner was sacked by Brent Urban for an 8-yard loss on third-and-13. Thomas Moore tried a 40-yard field goal, but missed wide right.
Sims' lone series had produced Virginia's lone touchdown to that point, but in Virginia's quarterback rotation that coach Mike London described this week as "random," the coaches sent Rocco back out for the next series, and his first pass was picked off by Tre Boston, who returned it 36 yards for a touchdown.
The Tar Heels' first two touchdowns came as Renner picked apart a defense geared to stop the run.
He hit Davis for 25, 10 and 20 yards in a 91-play drive that ended with his 9-yard touchdown pass to Highsmith, and he hit Davis for 32 yards on the next drive. Davis also drew a 15-yard pass interference call when cornerback Demetrious Nicholson latched onto him from behind on a throw to the end zone.
That set up North Carolina at 3, and A.J. Blue ran it in on the next play.
Renner was 19 for 23 in the half for 201 yards, and Davis had 10 catches for 130 yards.
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