BLACKSBURG — North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell pitched the ball to Michael Carter looking for the win against Virginia Tech in the fifth overtime.
Carter was immediately wrapped up well behind the line scrimmage by Khalil Ladler, who grabbed him by the shoulders and forcefully threw him to the ground.
The Tar Heels switched sides of the field for another two-point conversion attempt with Howell rolling out to his right with all his receivers covered in the end zone. Howell thought about pulling the ball down and running for the score.
That brief hesitation was all Ladler needed.
The safety dropped out of coverage, charged at Howell and grabbed him in a bear hug that allowed his teammates to join him and bring the talented freshman quarterback down to the ground.
“We knew we had to win this game,” Ladler said. “We wanted to win this game. This was like us pushing through adversity.”
Ladler admitted after the game he didn’t even know what overtime it was by the time the ACC rivals started trading two-point conversion attempts.
“I heard about it [the rule] before the season started,” Ladler said. “I didn’t know when it would happen...We just had to make the play. I just knew that.”
While the offense rallied around third-string quarterback Quincy Patterson in the 43-41 win, Ladler was just as unlikely of a hero. Ladler started 11 games for the Hokies last season at whip linebacker playing through various undisclosed injuries that put him on the shelf in the spring.
The defender’s “huge sacrifice” playing hurt didn’t go unnoticed by the coaching staff, but his time rehabbing allowed talented sophomore Chamarri Conner to get a foothold at the whip spot that he didn’t let go off in the fall.
Conner went down with an undisclosed injury sometime in the second half and it Ladler’s number was called.
“I come every day to work preparing like a starter no matter what the situation is,” Ladler said after the game. “Whenever my number is called, I feel like I’m going to be ready each and every time.”
Ladler been a key contributor this season, but those contributions have mostly come on special teams. He’s playing on all four special teams units — and the coaches are quick to point out he’s playing well in that spot — but Conner hasn’t left much of an opening to get on the field as the Hokies’ top playmaker.
But Ladler didn’t pout.
The defender continued to work his “tail off” all season as Bud Foster said after the game, which continued this week with him earning a special mention from Fuente for being one of the team’s standout players at Thursday’s practice.
“We just attacked this game,” Ladler said. “We didn’t worry about what would happen next. We just focused on UNC the whole week. We came prepared to play. No matter what happened during the game, we just had to keep pushing, keep doing our job.”
For Fuente, Ladler’s success along with fellow backups Armani Chatman, Quincy Patterson and Austin Cannon is a key factor in the team’s recent three-game win streak.
“That’s what football teams do,” Fuente said. “That’s what they have to do in order to have success is you have to have guys that are in those roles that can step up and play to the best of their ability when they’re called upon for the team to have a chance to have success. Khalil certainly didn’t that.