CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.--- North Carolina came to Scott Stadium and did what it had to do Thursday night in its nationally-televised ESPN showdown with ACC Coastal Division rival Virginia.
Playing much more soundly defensively than they have in recent games, the Tar Heels consistently got pressure on Virginia's quarterbacks, while its own signal-caller Bryn Renner enjoyed one of his finest outings yet as North Carolina's starter, as UNC prevailed over the Cavaliers, 37-13.
"I guess we answered the question of whether these guys can bounce back or not, and to do it in a short week," said UNC head coach Larry Fedora.
"Again, I think this say a lot about who the 2012 Tar Heel team is, what they are, and the adversity they've overcome this year and the willingness to keep working hard and practice and do everything that we ask."
"It was a total team effort and they deserve every bit of it," Fedora continued.
The win ensures a winning record for the Tar Heels for the fourth time in the last five years, as UNC improves to 7-4 overall and 4-3 in ACC play. The win also gives Carolina its second straight triumph in Charlottesville after going nearly 30 years without a win there.
After the two teams traded punts early on, UNC finally broke through and drew first blood midway through the opening period as the Tar Heels marched 91 yards on 10 plays, concluded by a 9-yard pass from Renner to Erik Highsmith that gave Carolina an early 7-0 advantage.
After Virginia trudged 66 yards in 11 plays to a field goal, UNC got the ball back and promptly went on another scoring march.
Renner, on his way to a brilliant first half in which he completed 19 of 23 passes for 201 yards, completed a 32-yard pass to Davis that helped set up an A.J. Blue 3-yard run and a 14-3 advantage for the Tar Heels in the first minute of the second quarter.
In his finest outing yet as a Tar Heel, Davis broke UNC's freshman record with 10 catches in the first half alone. He also surpassed the school's all-time freshman record for season receptions in his dominant first half, which included 130 receiving yards.
"We just wanted to start off fast," said Davis. "I was getting a lot of balls. They weren't playing the perimeter a lot, so coach said if they weren't going to play it, we were going to throw screens."
"It feels amazing (to set the UNC freshman records)," Davis added. "Coming into the game I wasn't even thinking about it. It hasn't hit me yet but sooner or later it probably will."
Following Blue's touchdown the Cavaliers finally found the end zone themselves, as Phillip Sims took his turn in the UVa huddle and guided them 67 yards in 14 plays, including two key third down conversions and a fourth down conversion.
Sims' second third down conversion of the drive was the most impressive, as he used his legs to elude multiple would-be UNC tacklers moving right, and then re-directing as he approached the sideline to find Darius Jennings alone in the middle of the end zone for a Virginia touchdown and a 14-10 score.
Carolina put together its third straight offensive drive of 60 or more yards on its ensuing possession, but a missed Thomas Moore field goal briefly kept UNC from adding to its lead.
That's before junior safety Tre Boston stepped in front of a Rocco pass and raced 36 yards to the end zone, sprung free by a huge block by teammate Pete Mangum.
UNC failed on another impromptu two-point conversion attempt, but the 20-10 Tar Heel lead held through the halftime intermission.
Statistically UNC has been one of the best teams in the ACC in the third quarter this fall, but that wasn't the case on this night, as once again the Scott Stadium Curse seemed to loom large over the Tar Heel sideline.
Virginia got a shot at a huge momentum swing early in the second half thanks to a rare mistake by Giovani Bernard, who fumbled a punt return that he called a fair catch on.
UVa recovered at the Tar Heel 12-yard line but the UNC defense held strong, aided by a Sylvester Williams sack.
The Cavaliers brought on place kicker Drew Jarrett for his second field goal, and he pulled UVa within a touchdown of the Tar Heels (20-13) four minutes into the second half.
Following a UNC punt the Cavaliers took over possession again and moved back into the North Carolina red zone, setting up a remarkable goal line stand by the Tar Heel defense.
Virginia moved inside UNC's 5-yard line leading into a couple of huge third and fourth down plays, but the Tar Heel defensive line held and kept Virginia from tying the game, sending a collective groan throughout the crowd.
Then the Tar Heels really took the wind out of Virginia's sails on its next offensive possession, as UNC took 12 plays to go 97 yards---its longest scoring drive of the season so far.
Renner continued his stellar night with his second touchdown pass, a 23-yard launch over the middle to a wide-open Bernard, who had broken free behind the UVa secondary.
On the scoring pass to Bernard, Renner became the first North Carolina quarterback in history to have back-to-back 3,000-yard passing seasons.
"People don't really notice how well he plays sometimes, and he did a great job today," said Bernard of Renner.
"He's a great guy and he is one of the guys I look up to. He's done a great job this season so far and now we have to finish off strong and now we have to finish off with a bang next week."
It was certainly a second half of 'What Ifs' for Virginia, for shortly after they failed to score on the goal line drive in the third quarter, the Cavaliers had a chance for a long touchdown pass, but the ball was dropped and UVa was forced into another punt.
From there UNC again went on to score, as Renner found Highsmith for the second time for a touchdown, this time from 20 yards out.
Just as Virginia's fans started emptying out of the stadium, the Cavaliers coughed up a fumble on the kickoff, which led to Moore's first career field goal and a 37-13 UNC cushion.
Then for good measure, following a 51-yard pass completion by Virginia, the Tar Heels again got a goal line stand, shutting the Cavaliers out after they moved inside the UNC 10-yard line.
The win provides an opportunity for its third eight-win season since 2008 if the Tar Heels can knock off Maryland next Saturday on Senior Day in Kenan Stadium.
Stay tuned for much more on UNC's convincing triumph over Virginia here at Tar Heel Illustrated.