CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – It looked as if senior Zack Pianalto’s touchdown jinx might be over Saturday night when the North Carolina tight end managed to haul in a 1-yard touchdown reception, celebrate, and leave the end zone with nary a limp.
Until about 4 minutes later, when he hobbled to the sideline with a fractured right fibula.
With 2:35 left in the second quarter, Pianalto caught a 7-yard pass from quarterback T.J. Yates, then was tackled by two Cavaliers. The pop by cornerback Chase Minnifield earned a 15-yard personal foul penalty for Virginia , and Pianalto hopped off the field – and then to the locker room -- on one leg.
“He’s got a fracture of his fibula,’’ coach Butch Davis said after UNC’s 44-10 victory. “I think they took him locally here, and did x-rays. But we’ll take him back, and our doctors will look at it, and we’ll get some kind of timetable.”
It was a tough way to leave the game, considering his touchdown, which gave the Tar Heels a 27-3 lead and was the third of Pianalto’s career, marked the first time he had managed to score without also hurting himself.
On the first touchdown of his career, as a sophomore in 2008, Pianalto took a helmet to the left fibula on his way into the end zone against Georgia Tech, ending his season.
Then last year against Connecticut, he hauled in a game-tying touchdown – only to injure his foot when he jumped in the air in celebration, and landed awkwardly on his ankle. He missed five games.
Earlier in the game against the Cavaliers, he had a touchdown reception called back on a holding penalty. So when he scored, it was cause for celebration – until later in the quarter, when he was hurt.
“It [stinks] for him,” Yates said. ”He’s got the worst luck. Hopefully he’ll be OK; he’s a great player, and he did a good job scoring that touchdown.”
Pianalto’s loss, no matter the time period, is significant. Over UNC’s first five games, he had been one of Yates’ top targets, catching a team-high 27 passes, for 257 yards.
Photo: UNC's Zack Pianalto hobbles off the field after an injury in the second quarter against Virginia. ROBERT WILLETT - firstname.lastname@example.org