ATLANTA — Georgia Tech couldn’t protect a three-touchdown lead, couldn’t contain Marquise Williams and, for the third straight week, couldn’t win.
The schedule brings more bad news for the Yellow Jackets, who play at No. 12 Clemson next week and also face No. 11 Florida State later this month.
Georgia Tech gave up two touchdowns in the final 90 seconds of the first half and lost to North Carolina 38-31 on Saturday.
Georgia Tech (2-3, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) was 2-0 and ranked No. 14 before a loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 19.
Now the Yellow Jackets are in a three-game losing streak, and the inability to hold a 21-0 lead over the Tar Heels may be the most painful loss.
Coach Paul Johnson said he felt as if he had been “gut-punched” after the loss left the Yellow Jackets in a deep hole in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
“I’m really disappointed,” Johnson said. “I thought we had plenty of chances. … We kind of let it slip away from us.”
The Tar Heels ended a streak of eight straight losses at Georgia Tech since their last win in 1997.
Georgia Tech defensive tackle Adam Gotsis was called for targeting for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Williams early in the second quarter. A review, which appeared to show contact was made with Gotsis’s facemask, confirmed the call and the senior defensive leader was ejected.
Fans booed the ruling as Gotsis was escorted off the field.
“Gotsis is a big part of our defense, so it was a big hit,” said safety Jamal Golden, who said Francis Kallon “held his own” as the fill-in at defensive tackle.
North Carolina (4-1, 1-0 ACC) began its comeback with two touchdowns in the final 90 seconds of the first half. That started a run in which the Tar Heels outscored the Yellow Jackets 38-10.
A 1-yard scoring run by quarterback Justin Thomas gave the Yellow Jackets a 21-0 lead. With less than five minutes remaining in the half, Georgia Tech’s overwhelming advantage in time of possession was 20:38 to 4:48.
North Carolina finally put together its first scoring drive. Then came what Johnson called the “momentum-changer.”
Georgia Tech punter Ryan Rodwell mishandled a low snap before getting off a 23-yard punt. North Carolina took advantage of the excellent field position for a quick scoring drive capped by Williams’ 7-yard touchdown run.
“Right now we’re not good enough in any facet to overcome that,” Johnson said.
Williams caught a 37-yard touchdown pass on a trick play early in the fourth quarter to cap the comeback. He handed off to running back T.J. Logan, who ran left and handed off to receiver Quinshad Davis on what looked like a reverse. Davis stopped and threw to Williams, who was wide open for the touchdown.
“The ball was in the air for a long time,” Williams said. “I said ‘If I drop this, I’ll never be able to go back to Chapel Hill.’”
The touchdown catch came one play after Thomas fumbled when hit by Tar Heels linebacker Cayson Collins.
Williams added a 28-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down play with about 5 minutes remaining.
Williams had 15 carries for 148 yards and two touchdowns, completed 13 of 24 passes for 134 yards and added the scoring catch.
North Carolina’s Elijah Hood ran for 60 yards and two touchdowns.
The Yellow Jackets’ last possession, which began at their 30 with 1:04 and no timeouts remaining, ended with an interception by M.J. Stewart.
Thomas completed 12 of 21 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He ran for 56 yards and two touchdowns.
North Carolina’s defense stopped a fourth-down run by Thomas at the Tar Heels’ goal line early in the fourth quarter.
Georgia Tech had converted its three previous fourth-down plays.
Freshman Mikell Lands-Davis caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Thomas in his debut.