By R.L. Bynum
WINSTON-SALEM — Drake Maye had passes dropped. He had receivers go down. But, of course, the sensational redshirt freshman quarterback overcame it all on Saturday night.
Maye threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as he led No. 15 Carolina to a 36–34 victory over Wake Forest to clinch the final ACC Coastal Division title.
The Tar Heels (9–1, 6–0 ACC) will face No. 12 Clemson (9–1, 7–0) in the ACC championship game in Charlotte at 8 p.m. on Dec. 3.
“I didn’t want to win the Coastal backing in,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “I didn’t want to get in with somebody losing. I wanted to win and so did the guys.”
Brown didn’t talk about the Coastal title all week but was happy that he and his team could celebrate earning the Coastal Division title trophy in the locker room after the game.
On a rough night for the defense, it again made a big late play, this time a Cam’Ron Kelly interception with 4:30 left.
“He read it well,” Brown said of Kelly’s interception. “He broke on it. It was a great interception.”
Maye hit Josh Downs on a 43-yard pass play to set up redemption for Noah Burnette.
“We believe in each other,” Downs said. “I feel like, with Drake at quarterback, I don’t think we’re ever gonna lose. I really didn’t have a doubt in my mind that we weren’t gonna lose that game. When Cam got that pick, yeah, we for sure won. Coach [Phil] Longo gave me a call to make a play, and I had to make one. Drake put the ball where it had to be.”
After missing an extra-point attempt earlier, Burnette nailed a 33-yard field goal with 2:12 left. Wake Forest’s final chance ended with quarterback Sam Hartman’s final incompletion with 1:14 left after pressure from Cedric Gray.
“There’s so much that we can fix,” Brown said. “So much we can do better.”
UNC hasn’t had an issue with dropped passes much this season but it happened several times against the Deacons. The Heels then lost wide receiver Antoine Green to an upper-body injury after he was targeted in the second quarter. It nearly got worse in the third quarter when Downs went down and was holding his lower back, but he returned a few minutes later.
Downs said he had a full body cramp and was a little sore.
“But I can’t be weak,” said Downs, shown below with the division title trophy. “I had to go out there and finish. Drake told me to push through, and I know Drake will push through anything, so I was like I need to do the same.”
Maye, who ran for 71 yards, finished 31 of 39 for 448 yards, completing 11 passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns to Downs.
“I can’t imagine him not being in New York,” Brown said of an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Maye said he was excited about playing the championship game in his hometown.
“That’s what we’re playing for, and it’s a great win, and I’m proud of the guys,” Maye said.
He outdid Hartman, who ended up 18 of 31 for 320 yards and four touchdowns but also with that big interception.
“I’m so impressed with them,” Brown said of his team. “They’re doing the things they need to do to find ways to win.”
Carolina easily drove 91 yards in 10 plays on its opening drive, with Maye hitting Downs in the back of the end zone for a 12-yard scoring pass, his sixth consecutive completion.
Antoine Green made an amazing catch for 45 yards on the next drive. Elijah Green, who ran for 24 yards earlier in the drive, scored on a five-yard run on the next play.
Wake Forest (6–4, 2–4) finally broke through on its third drive, with quarterback Sam Hartman hitting a wide-open Taylor Morin for a six-yard touchdown pass. UNC quickly got that score back on a short pass from Maye to Downs for a 7-yard scoring pass to cap a 13-play, 64-yard drive.
The Deacs converted on a fourth-and-goal at the UNC 1 on a Christian Turner run to again pull within seven. Wake also converted on fourth down on its next drive, scoring on a Hartman-to-Donavon Greene 7-yard touchdown pass to tie it.
Downs made a terrific catch in the left side of the end zone despite a double-team for a 20-yard scoring reception. But Burnette missed the PAT to leave it 27–21.
After stopping UNC on a fourth down, Wake Forest took the lead on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Hartman to A.T. Perry. Maye ran five yards for a touchdown with 5:27 left to cap a 69-play drive. But Elijah Green’s run off of a pitch on the two-point try came up short, leaving UNC ahead by five.
Wake Forest needed two plays to score, with Hartman connecting with Donavon Greene on a 60-yard touchdown pass. Hartman’s pass on a two-point try failed, giving Wake a 34–33 lead.
On a fourth-and-goal at the Wake Forest 1, Deacons cornerback Isaiah Wingfield tipped Maye’s pass intended for Downs, and it fell incomplete. On the other end of the field, UNC’s defense responded with a big fourth-and-3 stop at the Carolina 10 by inches, though.
NOTES — Carolina returns home Saturday for a 5:30 game (ESPN2) against Georgia Tech (4–6, 3–4), which lost 35–14 at home Saturday against Miami. … UNC’s six road victories is a school record for a season. … Elijah Green didn’t score his first college touchdown until the Duke game but now has six, five rushing and one receiving. … Downs has 22 touchdown receptions, moving him to second on the NC list behind Quinshad Davis with 24. … Brown moved to 12–3 all-time against Wake Forest and 11–3 as UNC’s head coach. … Carolina snapped a three-game losing streak in Winston-Salem and is 21–15 all-time on the road against Wake Forest. … UNC’s 72 wins against Wake Forest are the most against a single opponent.
No. 15 UNC 36, Wake Forest 34
|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