Officials called for the obligatory review. But Ryan Williams, distraught and prone on the Lane Stadium turf, told all.
Virginia Tech's brilliant freshman tailback, the ACC's leading rusher, had fumbled. North Carolina had recovered.
The Tar Heels churned out a first down against a suddenly helpless defense, milked the clock and lined up for a chip-shot field goal.
Casey Barth's 21-yarder on the game's final snap was true, and the Hokies were 20-17 losers.
They got precisely what they deserved.
Tech's offense failed to score in the first half despite crossing midfield five times.
Tech's defense failed to stop the ACC's 11th-ranked offense at critical stages throughout the second half.
Earlier this season, the 14th-ranked Hokies (5-3, 3-2 ACC) lost to Alabama and Georgia Tech. Those opponents are first-rate, a combined 15-1 this season. Those defeats are excusable.
This is not. North Carolina (5-3, 1-3 ACC) is not as talented as Virginia Tech.
Yet the Tar Heels sauntered into the Hokies' house and won, even after gift-wrapping a go-ahead score for the home team in the fourth quarter.
Yes, as badly as Virginia Tech played throughout, it took a 17-14 lead early in the final period on quarterback Tyrod Taylor's 1-yard run. The touchdown was set up by Rashad Carmichael's interception of T.J. Yates, who inexplicably tried to throw while tumbling backward from the weight of 301-pound defensive tackle Cordarrow Thompson.
But the Hokies couldn't stand prosperity.
On its next possession, North Carolina converted a third-and-4, third-and-7, fourth-and-7 and third-and-3 before settling for Barth's tying field goal with 2:52 remaining.
Moments later, on third-and-6, Williams fumbled when hit by Tydreke Powell. Deunta Williams recovered for the Tar Heels.
Of all the people to commit the decisive turnover.
Projected as a backup to incumbent Darren Evans, Williams inherited the starting job when Evans suffered a season-ending knee injury in August. He's been the Hokies' best player and the conference's best back since, combining punishing power and breakaway speed like few other runners in Tech annals.
After Barth's winning kick, Williams sat motionless on the bench. Evans attempted to console him, to no avail.
"All it was was effort, trying to get that first down," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said of the fumble, Tech's second turnover of the night.
Williams said he blamed himself, which is understandable but incorrect. Everyone shares in this.
Taylor was inaccurate, missing on 12 of 23 passes. Receiver Jarrett Boykin lost a fumble, and tackle Blake DeChristopher nullified a 20-yard Williams touchdown run with a holding penalty.
On defense, Carmichael got beaten on Yates' 13-yard touchdown pass to freshman Jheranie Boyd and committed a crucial fourth-quarter interference penalty; linebacker Cody Grimm couldn't handle slot receiver Greg Little on a 15-yard scoring pass and a 19-yard throw on fourth-and-7.
Tech's offense finally showed some life in the third quarter.
Fourth-and-goal from the 1. Down 7-0. Mid-third quarter.
Sounds like an easy call, right? Go for it!
On the two previous snaps, North Carolina had stuffed Williams for no gain. Moreover, center Beau Warren had just limped off the field with a sprained left knee, sending backup Michael Via, a redshirt freshman, onto the field.
Via had logged 24 previous snaps this season, all in blowouts of Marshall and Boston College. Might Via whiff on a block or muff the exchange with Taylor?
Beamer gambled anyway.
The Hokies employed two tight ends, a full-house backfield and no wide receivers. Taylor faked an inside handoff to Williams, rolled to the right, beat linebacker Kennedy Tinsley to the edge and ducked into the end zone.
Later, on a third-and-goal from the 1, Taylor took a shotgun snap, sprinted to his right and cut inside. Cornerback Charles Brown hit him low while tackle Cam Thomas corralled him high.
It was excruciatingly close, but line judge Rick Page raised both arms. Replay officials upstairs confirmed the call.
Tech led 17-14. Order had been restored.
Or so we thought.
"I firmly believe we're a good football team," Beamer said.
Not good enough to beat a winless ACC opponent at home.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.
Hokies all share 'inexcusable' loss
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.