BLACKSBURG — Are Virginia Tech and North Carolina rivals?
Depends on who you ask.
Tech coach Justin Fuente isn’t completely sold on the Hokies being full-fledged rivals with North Carolina. He takes a more traditional view of Tech’s schedule, and in his mind the list of rivals starts and ends with Virginia.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some heightened emotions surrounding the game.
“I don’t know,” Fuente said, discussing the topic. “It’s a division game. Obviously, there’s been closely contested battles. Virginia Tech has come out on top the majority of those times. We’re in close proximity to each other, so many of the kids know each other. It gets you excited to go play in the game.”
That eventful recent history includes Tech winning a marathon six-overtime game in 2019 and putting together a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter of the 2018 matchup after forcing a fumble at the goal line.
Tech is 24-12-6 all-time against North Carolina and 13-4 in the series since joining the ACC (UNC’s win in 2009 has been vacated). Fuente is 4-1 against the Tar Heels since coming to Blacksburg.
As Fuente said, the game has added meaning for the many North Carolina natives on Tech’s roster. Four of them are starters on the two-deep the Hokies announced Monday, and there are three others listed as primary backups.
Dax Hollifield, who was the state of North Carolina’s No. 7 ranked recruit, still remembers being booed when he took the field as a true freshman in 2018.
“The last two times I’ve played at Kenan [Stadium], it wasn’t very pleasant for me and their fans,” Hollifield said. “So this time’s in Lane, obviously, and it’s going to be packed like it always is. It’s going to be crazy, and they’re going to see it.”
While Hollifield said he tries to play like his “hair is on fire” regardless of the opponent, he admitted the bad blood between the teams is always in the back of his head.
“Obviously I know my past, their past, how they feel about me, how I feel about them,” Hollifield said.
Hollifield also got plenty of motivation from watching film of last year’s 56-45 loss to UNC. The loss was easily one of the worst defensive performances in program history. Tech gave up 656 total yards (399 rushing) and six drives of 75 yards or more.
“That was FUBAR last year,” Hollifield said.
Tre Turner, a Greensboro native who ranked just behind Hollifield in the state rankings in 2018, said the details didn’t even matter to him. When he sees the “L” next to the Hokies name on the schedule, he knows work needs to be done.