It looked as if North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell was trying just to throw the football out of bounds to avoid a late sack.
With 37 seconds left in the game, facing a 2nd-and-7 at the Virginia Tech 40-yard line, Howell heaved the ball to his right as he was spun toward the ground. The ball didn’t reach the sideline. And it didn’t hit UNC hands. Instead, it sailed right into the arms of Hokies defensive back Chamarri Conner, who bobbled it three times as he was going to the ground and then a fourth time after he hit the turf.
The ruling on the field was an interception, with UNC already trailing by a score, and the call stood upon review. It proved to be the most pivotal call in Virginia Tech’s stunning 17-10 defeat of No. 10 UNC on Friday.
But was it really an interception?
Conner was in the process of securing the ball as he was tackled by UNC wide receiver Josh Downs. While he put his arms around the ball as he continued to bobble it on his way to the ground, it was unclear if he kept the arms under the ball and prevented it from hitting the ground before gaining control. UNC had only two timeouts left.
After the officials’ review upheld the INT, Tre Turner took a jet sweep 12 yards for a game-clinching first down. Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister then took three knees to close out the upset win for the Hokies (1-0, 1-0 ACC). The fans didn’t take long to start celebrating.
The interception capped a disappointing game for the Tar Heels (0-1, 0-1 ACC). Howell, considered one of the top prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft , didn’t have his A-game — and neither did his offensive line. He finished Friday having completed just 17 of 32 passes for 208 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. His line certainly did him no favors as it allowed him to be sacked six times.