By R.L. Bynum
DURHAM — Wins never seem to come easy for Carolina but somehow they keep overcoming the defensive lapses and offensive hiccups to win.
There were plenty of both Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium. But when you have Drake Maye — even on a night when he has two costly fumbles — you always have a chance.
He drove the Tar Heels for an eight-yard touchdown pass to Antoine Green (top photo) with 16 seconds left as Carolina rallied for a 38–35 victory to retain the Victory Bell for a fourth consecutive season. Maye marched UNC 74 yards on nine plays in 1:53, with Green barely keeping his feet inbounds in the right side of the end zone on the game-winning play.
“One of the best things we do with this team is the one-minute offense,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “With two minutes and 17 or something seconds left on the clock with one time out, that’s forever for us.”
UNC’s Will Hardy sealed the victory on an interception with two seconds left after Noah Taylor tipped the pass.
“What a great game,” Brown said. “It’s like so many Carolina-Duke games. Both teams played their guts out with momentum changes back and forth.”
The defense that had improved so much the previous two weeks played consistently only in holding Duke (4–3, 1–2 ACC) scoreless in the third quarter but it ultimately was enough. The offense was potent, as usual, but Carolina had to overcome those Maye fumbles and two consecutive three-and-out possessions in the second half.
Ultimately, with Maye, Josh Downs and the Greens — Antoine and Elijah — igniting the Tar Heels offense, UNC (6–1, 3–0) pulled out the incredible victory to stay alone at the top of the ACC Coastal Division.
“To have a good year, you’ve got to win close games and last year we didn’t,” Brown said. “This year’s team is and that’s why I’m proud of them.”
Maye finished 28 of 38 passing for 380 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a team-high 99 yards. Downs had nine catches on 11 targets for 126 yards, Antoine Green pulled down four catches for 112 yards and a TD while Elijah Green ran for 24 yards and two TDs.
“He’s such a good runner,” Brown said of Maye. “That’s what people don’t realize. He’s elusive and he just found the seams and he’s doing a better job sliding.”
Four plays after Maye hit Antoine Green on a 53-yard completion on the game’s first play, Noah Burnette’s 45-yard field goal gave UNC an early lead.
Duke gashed UNC’s defense for 542 total yards, led by quarterback Riley Leonard going 20 of 31 for 245 yards, 1 TD and one interception and running for 144 yards and a touchdown.
“Our defensive plan was to stop Leonard and he only ran for 120 yards in the first half, so obviously we didn’t do a good job,” Brown said. “But they did a better job in the second half with adjustments that our defense made.”
The teams then traded 75-yard drives, with Duke’s producing a 2-yard running back Jordan Waters touchdown run and Carolina’s a 10-yard TD pass from Maye to tight end Kamari Morales.
UNC’s defense stiffened at the start of the second quarter after another 72-yard Duke drive. Cam’Ron Kelly leveled Leonard on third down, and a fourth-down pass attempt fell incomplete at the UNC 3.
One play after DeAndre Boykins sacked Leonard for a 14-yards, he ran 74 yards for a touchdown in the longest Duke run this season and the longest the Tar Heels have given up.
Caleb Hood inadvertently knocked the ball out of Maye’s hand on the next drive to give Duke the ball at the UNC 33. Seven plays later, Jaquez Moore scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 1:38 left.
That left Maye too much time. He hit Antoine Green for 35 yards, ran for eight and connected with Hood in the far right of the end zone for a 4-yard scoring pass with 13 seconds left to cut Duke’s halftime lead to 21–17.
After combining to give up 141 rushing yards in its previous two games — wins over Virginia Tech and Miami — UNC already gave up 192 to Duke by halftime, which bettered the Blue Devils’ average per game before Saturday of 197.7.
UNC seized the lead after stopping Duke’s initial second-half drive. One play after an outstanding Downs catch along the sideline for 38 yards, Elijah Green’s 1-yard scoring run for his first career touchdown gave the Heels a 24–21 edge.
That sequence produced another touchdown, this time a spectacular Downs catch for 31 yards and an Elijah Green touchdown run. This time, Green bounced past a couple of defenders on an impressive 20-yard scoring play.
Once Giovanni Biggers and DeAndre Boykins dropped Jordan Waters on a fourth-down attempt late in the third quarter to give UNC the ball at the Duke 30, it looked like it would be UNC’s night.
Duke rebounded to score after two consecutive UNC three-and-outs to take a 35–31 lead.
After UNC missed a field-goal attempt, and Riley threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Sahmir Hagans. A 38-yard Waters touchdown drive capped the second drive.
NOTES — Carolina pushed its lead in the series to 65–40–4 and 32–19–2 at Wade Stadium. … It was UNC’s fourth consecutive win in the series and 12 in a row for Brown, who is 12–2 against Duke. … The Tar Heels have an open date next weekend before playing Pittsburgh at home Saturday, Oct. 29. … Press box seats were reserved for scouts from the Browns, Jags and Titans and a representative of the Cheez-It Bowl. … UNC defensive lineman Ray Vohasek, defensive back Don Chapman and right guard William Barnes missed the game with injuries. Jonathan Ordono started at right guard. … The crowd was announced as 40,004. … The wins are exciting when Sam Howell shows up. He was at the game after also being in Boone for the Appalachian State game.
UNC 38, Duke 35
|X-No. 13 North Carolina||6||0||9||1|
|X-No. 9 Clemson||7||0||9||1|
|No. 20 Florida State||5||3||7||3|
X-Clinched division title
North Carolina 36, Wake Forest 34
Duke 24, Virginia Tech 7
Pittsburgh 37, Virginia 7
Miami 35, Georgia Tech 14
Clemson 31, Louisville 16
Boston College 21, N.C. State 20
Florida State 38, Syracuse 3
Louisiana at Florida State, noon, ESPN3
Virginia Tech at Liberty, noon, ESPN+
Duke at Pittsburgh, noon, ACC Network
Boston College at Notre Dame, 2:30, NBC
Miami at Clemson, 3:30, ESPN
N.C. State at Louisville, 3:30, ACC Network
Coastal Carolina at Virginia, 3:30, ESPN3
Georgia Tech at North Carolina, 5:30, ESPN2
Syracuse at Wake Forest, 8 p.m., ACC Network
|27||Saturday||W, 56–24||Home||Florida A&M||1–0|
|3||Saturday||W, 63–61||Boone||Appalachian State||2–0|
|10||Saturday||W, 35–28||Atlanta||Georgia State||3–0|
|24||Saturday||L, 45–32||Home||No. 19 |
|1||Saturday||W, 41–10||Home||Virginia Tech||4–1, 1–0 ACC|
|8||Saturday||W, 27–24||Miami |
|Miami||5–1, 2–0 ACC|
|15||Saturday||W, 38–35||Durham||Duke||6–1, 3–0 ACC|
|29||Saturday||W, 42–24||Home||Pittsburgh||7–1, 4–0 ACC|
|5||Saturday||W, 31–28||Charlottesville||Virginia||8–1, 5–0 ACC|
|12||Saturday||W, 36–34||Winston-Salem||Wake Forest||9–1, 6–0 ACC|
|19||Saturday||L, 21–17||Home||Georgia Tech||9–2, 6–1 ACC|
|25||Friday||L, 30–27, |
|Home||No. 25 N.C. State||9–3, 6–2 ACC|
|3||Saturday||L, 39–10||Charlotte||No. 10 Clemson||9–4|
|28||Wednesday||L, 28–27||San Diego||No. 15 Oregon||9–5|
Photo via @UNCFootball