CHAPEL HILL — Tobias Oliver got his chance and ran with it.
Oliver rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns and passed for a score to help Georgia Tech beat North Carolina 38-28 on Saturday.
Oliver broke a 28-28 tie with a 1-yard touchdown run with three minutes remaining for the Yellow Jackets (5-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who won for the fourth time in five games.
North Carolina (1-7, 1-5) had a chance to answer, but Anree Saint-Amour intercepted Nathan Elliott’s pass with 2:44 left to set up Georgia Tech’s game-clinching field goal.
“We did what we had to do to get out of here winning a game,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said.
Georgia Tech, which entered the game averaging a nation-leading 366.5 rushing yards per game, ran for 461 yards against a North Carolina defensive line depleted by injuries and suspensions. It was the Yellow Jackets’ fifth 400-yard rushing performance of the season, a school record.
Oliver replaced starting quarterback TaQuon Marshall on Georgia Tech’s fourth offensive series and played the rest of the game. He threw an 86-yard touchdown pass to Qua Searcy, the team’s longest since 2009.
The performance came nine days after Oliver rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the Yellow Jackets’ 49-28 win at Virginia Tech.
“I feel like it’s pretty evident that I can get in and play,” Oliver said. “But at the same time, we’re at the point in the season where I don’t want to get too much that I should be the starter. As of right now, I just want to win.”
After trailing 28-10 in the third quarter, North Carolina scored on three consecutive possessions, tying the game on a 1-yard touchdown run by Antonio Williams and a 2-point conversion.
Cole Holcomb had a career-high 22 tackles and three forced fumbles for the Tar Heels.
Elliott was replaced in the second quarter by freshman Jace Ruder, who led North Carolina to a field goal and a touchdown on two drives before leaving with an injury. Elliott re-entered the game and finished with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets moved above .500 for the first time since the season opener, but it wasn’t easy. They survived a series of self-inflicted wounds in the second half, sandwiching a pair of lost fumbles around a botched play on fourth and inches that resulted in a turnover on downs. “It got a little crazy there,” Johnson said. “To their credit, they kept playing and they fought back. And we did most everything we could to try to help them.”
North Carolina: It was another heartbreaker for the Tar Heels, who lost their fifth consecutive game. North Carolina dropped to 5-19 in its last 24 games, a stretch that includes a 2-14 record in conference games and a 2-9 mark at home. “It’s a challenge when you don’t have success,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “But I don’t worry about the guys in that room getting back up off the mat. I don’t worry about what they have inside of them. There’s no doubt in my mind what kind of grit they have. They will continue to battle and give everything they have.”
QB OR NOT QB?
Johnson stuck to his promise to play both of his quarterbacks. Marshall rushed for 61 yards on eight carries, including a 44-yard scamper, before departing. Johnson said he stuck with Oliver because he thought the freshman gave the Yellow Jackets the best chance to win, based on how the game was unfolding. “It was a gut thing, a feel thing,” Johnson said. “Probably the rest of the way, that’s kind of what it will be.”
THE GOOD SON
Georgia Tech freshman defensive back Tre Swilling made his first interception, coming up with a one-handed theft of Elliott late in the first quarter. The play snapped Elliott’s streak of 219 consecutive passes without an interception. Swilling is the son of former Georgia Tech star Pat Swilling, a former NFL All-Pro selection. His uncles Ken and Darrell were members of the Yellow Jackets’ 1990 national championship team.