By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Riding high with the Coastal Division title and hopes of a special season, some of Carolina’s big dreams died with a decidedly unspecial effort.
Georgia Tech rallied from a 17-point deficit with 21 consecutive points Saturday night to take a stunning 21–17 victory in Kenan Stadium over the No. 13 Tar Heels to snap their six-game winning streak.
After finding a way to win close games week after week, UNC (9–2, 6–1 ACC) finally came up empty.
“It’s a little shocking and disappointing,” quarterback Drake Maye said. “It’s a disappointment knowing the story of the whole season is pulling out these games.”
Maye suddenly played like a redshirt freshman, Josh Downs was off his game and there were uncharacteristic offensive struggles. That all meant an unexpected outcome for Carolina, which could still win an ACC title and a major bowl berth.
“I think our whole offense was off,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “It was a night when not one good thing happened for us offensively. When you score on the first play, you relax sometimes.”
The Maye to Downs connection that has been so reliable all season couldn’t produce the big play late when Downs dropped a pass in the end zone on a fourth-and-11 with 4:10 left that would have given UNC the lead.
The Carolina defense has made so many big late stops this season, but couldn’t do it against the Yellow Jackets (5–6, 3–5).
“It’s very disappointing,” said linebacker Cedric Gray, who led UNC with 14 tackles, adding that the postgame locker room was quiet. “It just didn’t happen tonight. We didn’t make plays that we usually do.”
Carolina was without its second-best receiver, Antoine Green. Downs, its best receiver, had only three catches for 31 yards.
Maye didn’t have the sort of game that will impress Heisman Trophy voters, going 16 of 30 for 202 yards, no touchdowns and an interception and was sacked five times.
“They had a good scheme for us,” Maye said, mentioning that Tech was double-teaming Downs. “Some things weren’t clicking, and it starts with me. I’m disappointed in myself.”
Elijah Green sped 80 yards for a touchdown on UNC’s first play to quickly give UNC the lead. It surpassed Caleb Hood’s 71-yard run at Appalachian State for the longest run this season and tied a Maye-to-Antoine Green TD pass against Notre Dame for the longest play of the season.
After a 16-play, 45-yard UNC drive stalled early in the second quarter, Noah Burnette’s 31-yard field goal gave the Heels a 10–0 lead.
Carolina couldn’t take advantage of Storm Duck’s third interception of the season, with Maye’s fourth-and-two run at the Tech 6 coming up short.
After Maye connected on passes of 18 and 36 yards to Bryson Nesbit (the second a season-high), UNC scored on Elijah Green’s 1-yard touchdown.
Georgia Tech sliced a 17-point deficit to three with touchdowns on its last first-half drive and first second-half drive.
A big coverage bust led to a 36-yard touchdown pass from Tech quarterback Zach Gibson to Hassan Hall. That set up a 2-yard Dontae Smith touchdown run with 48 seconds left in the first half. Tech drove 68 yards in nine plays on its first drive after halftime, with quarterback Taisun Phommachanh’s 4-yard run with 7:31 left in the third quarter.
After a Nesbit holding penalty negated a 68-yard Green run that would have gone for a touchdown, Carolina went three-and-out on the ensuing drive. The following UNC drive ended when Tech’s LaMiles Brooks stopped Maye’s streak of no interceptions at 195 attempts.
Georgia Tech then went 81 yards on nine plays to take a 21–17 lead on a six-yard Hall touchdown run with 11:08 left in the game.
NOTES — Carolina finishes the regular season with a 3:30 Black Friday clash with N.C. State (7–4, 3–4), which lost at Louisville 25–10 Saturday for the Wolfpack’s second consecutive loss. … Freshman running back Omarion Hampton had no carries in the previous two games and 29 rushing yards in the last four before running for 35 yards Saturday. … UNC wide receiver Antoine Green and tight end John Copenhaver and Georgia Tech defensive end Noah Collins all missed the game with upper-body injuries … UNC fell to 31–23–3 in the all-time series against Georgia Tech. … Brown fell to 7–5–1 against the Jackets and 7–3 in the last nine games.
Ga. Tech 21, No. 13 UNC 17
|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 @GoHeels