By R.L. Bynum
DURHAM — Josh Downs knew that Drake Maye was still down on himself over a fumble that gave Duke a chance to put the game away.
When Carolina’s defense forced the Blue Devils to settle for a missed field-goal attempt to give Maye another chance to rally the Tar Heels, Downs wanted to make sure that the redshirt freshman was entering that drive with the right attitude.
The words couldn’t have hurt, considering that Maye engineered the game-winning drive as Carolina rallied Saturday night at Wade Stadium for a thrilling 38–35 victory to keep the Victory Bell for a fourth consecutive season.
“I went up to him before the drive and told him you’re the greatest and you know that,” Downs told him, hoping that Maye would forget about the mistake and execute the one-minute drill like they have so many times in practice, particularly twice as much time left.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time situations, and I always stand by that,” Downs said. “So, I feel like some people may just need a little extra confidence. So, I went up to him, ‘I’m with you.’ I’m like, ‘If all else fails, throw it up, and I’ll be on there somewhere.’ So, he trusts me, and I trust him and he trusted all the receivers. We’re clicking right now and I’m very proud of that.”
Downs was an integral part of that drive, because it would have ended without his 11-yard reception on a fourth-and-five at the Duke 20 with 45 seconds left. Three plays later, Maye connected with Antoine Green, who just did stayed just inbounds to complete the eight-yard scoring play with 16 seconds left.
“Those end-of-game moments, they can help you down the road,” Maye said. “And I think the previous ones helped us here tonight.”
In only seven career games as a starter, Maye has already built a legacy. The sort of drive he engineered against Duke is what makes legends and sets him up for a big NFL payday, likely after next season.
He admitted to having a few nerves before the drive began.
“Oh yeah, a little nerves,” Maye said. “But I have confidence in my guys. They were pumping me up after the second fumble. It was unfortunate; it looked like a close call. But just to get back out there, get the guys going and make big plays. That’s what football is — making big plays, you know, big-time players, big-time moments.”
Carolina practices the one-minute offense and one-minute defense daily, which makes trying to score with 2:09 left seem less daunting. The Tar Heels showed late in the first half that they can score quickly when they started a possession with 1:38 left and got into position for a Noah Burnette field goal.
Linebacker Cedric Gray has to face UNC’s offense in those drills in practice and knows how effective they are, so he expected that game-winning drive. He said nobody should be surprised that Maye and the offense pulled it off.
“I was definitely confident,” said Gray, who said that his defense stops the offense about half the time on those drills. “First of all, they’re a talented bunch on offense. We work this every day in practice. So just having that constant repetition of working it. Obviously, they knew their plan going into the two-minute drive, and they executed and made plays they needed to make.”
Coach Mack Brown says that Maye has to protect the ball but didn’t blame his quarterback for the first fumble since teammate Caleb Hood ran into him.
|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
“Credit Drake for making those fourth downs; credit Drake for the touchdown throw,” Brown said. “Antoine Green does an amazing job of coming back from the corner of the end zone, and Drake throws a strike.
“There’s a lot of pressure in college football, a lot of pressure on these kids,” Brown said. “We’ve worked so hard on one-minute offense and one-minute defense because it’s such a difference in ballgames and people have scored points all over the country. Man, it’s just a lot of bad defense out there.”
It also helps when you have guys like Maye, Downs and Green to exploit those defenses.