CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After a week that included a disappointing defeat and then the loss of his top two quarterbacks, Brent Key’s interim coaching tenure added a most significant result Saturday.

Taking the field as 21-point underdogs, Georgia Tech authored a stunner, taking down No. 13 North Carolina 21-17 at Kenan Stadium. Tech hounded Tar Heels quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Drake Maye into arguably his poorest game of the season, holding him to 16-for-30 passing for 202 yards and one interception. Maye entered the game leading FBS in touchdown passes (34) and total offense (399.6 yards per game) and second in passing yards per game (341.2 yards per game). He had compiled a 34/3 touchdown/interception ratio.

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With quarterbacks Zach Gibson and Taisunh Phommachanh sharing helmsmanship of the Tech offense, the Yellow Jackets (5-6, 4-4 ACC) overcame a 17-0 second-quarter deficit to quash UNC’s hopes of playing in the College Football Playoff and earn the second road win over a ranked team in Key’s seven-game tenure.

“Outstanding game played by our guys in all phases,” Key said. “Those guys, we developed a plan during the week; they understood the plan. The plan might not have made a lot of sense to a lot of people; it made sense to the people who came on the plane up here to go play.”

Under the direction of defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker, the Tech defense held the UNC offense, which entered the game ranked in the top 10 nationally in total offense (505.5 yards per game) and scoring offense (40.1 points per game) to season lows in both categories. (The Tar Heels gained 365 yards.)

Maye often was pressured and did not seem his typically accurate self. He was sacked six times, led by defensive end Keion White’s three.

“The defensive line did an outstanding job of sticking to the plan, getting pressure on the quarterback, affecting the quarterback,” Key said. “We didn’t know if there was going to be that many opportunities to get sacks, but we knew if they kept pressuring the quarterback, it would make him make mistakes.”

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Perhaps the most critical error that Maye made was late in the third quarter, as he drove the Tar Heels offense just shy of the red zone. On a second-and-14 from the Tech 23, Maye dropped back and tried to find tight end Bryson Nesbit near the sideline. Safety LaMiles Brooks dropped into coverage and made a spectacular leaping interception. It ended Maye’s streak of consecutive passes without an interception at 195.

“Shout-out to my defensive line, of course,” Brooks said. “I felt like he couldn’t step all the way into his throw, and affecting the quarterback was what led to him throwing the ball right to me.”

It gave the Jackets the ball on their 19-yard line with 1:15 to play in the third quarter trailing 17-14. With a chance to go ahead, the Jackets went the distance, boosted by a 40-yard end-around run by wide receiver Malachi Carter. When running back Hassan Hall punched the ball in on a third-and-goal from the UNC 6-yard line to take a 20-17 lead (increased to 21-17 by kicker Gavin Stewart’s point-after try) with 11:08 left in the fourth quarter, a Kenan Stadium crowd that has enjoyed a historically successful season fell muted.

A team whose coach had been fired, had lost three of its past four games and was starting its No. 3 quarterback was threatening to leave a stain on the season.

The Tar Heels (9-2, 6-1) had two more drives to take back the lead, familiar ground for a team that had won an FBS-leading six games with second-half comebacks. But the Tar Heels went three-and-out on their first possession and punted. Getting the ball back with 9:03 to play on their 23-yard line, the Tar Heels drove to the Tech 19-yard line, where coach Mack Brown elected to go for it and put the game in the hands of Maye.

Maye appeared to have delivered once again when he lofted an on-target pass to wide receiver Josh Downs in the end zone. But Downs, a North Gwinnett High grad, could not hold onto the ball, giving the ball back to the Jackets with 4:10 to play.

Georgia Tech 21, North Carolina 17

The defensive player he had managed to elude was Brooks.

“Just in the heat of the moment, I was disappointed in myself for letting him get that open, but I was thankful that he dropped the ball,” Brooks said.

The Jackets, who entered the game ranked 114th in FBS in total offense, were able to bleed out the final minutes. Hall picked up a critical first down by sliding through the UNC defense to convert a third-and-9 with a 9-yard gain.

Tech (5-6, 4-4 ACC) now has defeated two ranked teams on the road when underdogs by 20-plus points, starting with the team’s 26-21 win at then-No. 24 Pitt in Key’s first game as interim coach following the firing of coach Geoff Collins.

The Jackets relied on the quarterbacking tandem of Gibson and Phommachanh, thrust into action after first- and second-string quarterbacks Jeff Sims and Zach Pyron were unavailable because the former was indefinitely separated from the team this week after a sprained foot and the latter sustained a season-ending broken clavicle in the Jackets’ loss to Miami the previous Saturday.

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Offensive coordinator Chip Long designed a game plan for both to play, rotating them on drives and sometimes within possessions. Gibson played far better than he had in his first three games with the Jackets (13-for-18 passing for 174 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions) while Phommachanh’s contributions were mostly on the ground (10 rushes for 44 yards and a touchdown).

“We knew Jeff was out, we knew Zach was out, so we knew, me and ‘Gibby,’ we had to step up,” Phommachanh said. “So we had a talk. We said, ‘Let’s really lock in this week. The team’s looking to us, there’s nobody else.’ We had to take it upon ourselves, put in some extra work this week and just really get that game plan down to a ‘T.’”