by Robbi Pickeral, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL -- As a team, the Tar Heels don't talk much about the streak.
Then again, they don't really need to.
Call it bad karma or unlucky breaks or some sort of weird away-from-home happenstance, but North Carolina hasn't beaten Georgia Tech in Atlanta in 1997 - a span of 16 years and seven road games.
And entering this weekend's rematch at Bobby Dodd Stadium, it stings.
"I definitely take it personally,'' senior defensive lineman Tim Jackson said. "It's a team in our Coastal Division that we haven't beaten yet, at least in my time. ... I see it as a point of pride and something I really emphasize on myself is to get this win.
Many of the Tar Heels were still toddling when UNC last topped Tech on the road,16-3. Carolina, which entered the game ranked No. 5, went on to finish 11-1 that season. But since then, five of the seven losses have been by a touchdown or less, making them all the more frustrating:
• In 1999, UNC led 13-0 early, only to have seventh-ranked Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton push his team on a 79-yard drive in the closing minutes to force overtime. The Jackets won 31-24.
• In 2001, the 23rd-ranked Jackets held No. 22 UNC to 13 yards rushing, and prevailed 28-21.
• The 2005 season saw the Tar Heels pull to within six points late in the fourth quarter, and then stop Tech on three plays to get the ball back with 2:51 left. But the 17th-ranked Yellow Jackets intercepted a long pass from Matt Baker near the goal line to seal Tech's 27-21 victory.
• Then there was 2007, when Carolina led 25-24 with 5:50 remaining. Travis Bell's 27-yard field goal with 15 seconds left sealed it that time for Tech, 27-25.
• And in 2011, the Tar Heels trailed by two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter - but tied it 28-all on a 55-yard run by Gio Bernard with 7:22 left. Four plays later, however, quarterback Tevin Washington scored the game-winner for the Jackets, who won 35-28.
"It's just a tough environment,'' quarterback Bryn Renner said. "The students are right on you, the crowd is on you, and I think honestly it's one of the toughest places to play...."
Meaning it's important for the Tar Heels to toughen up for this one, especially because it marks UNC's league opener: "We have to step up on the road,'' Renner added. "In order to win the ACC, we have to go on the road and win close games, and we know this is going to be a close game."
After all, look at the aforementioned recent history.
Second-year UNC head coach Larry Fedora, as you would expect, downplayed any significance to the streak, saying he didn't know it had lasted so long. Plus, he emphasized, it happened with different personnel.
"We don't control any of those things that happened in the last 16 years, so I don't see that that plays a part in this year's team or what we're doing at this time,'' he said. "So again, it's focusing on what we do and make sure we execute and play good, solid, smart, fast and physical football."
Plus, streaks are meant to be broken; UNC has halted them before.
Offensive lineman James Hurst, then a freshman, was on the field in 2010, when the Tar Heels finally - finally - ended their 29-year, 14-game losing streak at Virginia. They romped 44-10 in that game at Scott Stadium.
"It was one of those things where you don't really realize the significance until you go home afterward and think about the game,'' said Hurst, now a senior. "It's a nice feeling - but it's not something you want to start thinking about until the game's won.
"So right now, we have to focus on winning this one."
Turner Walston contributed to this report.