The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday December 5th

Legacy Tar Heel Drake Maye breaks out with five touchdowns against Florida A&M

Freshman quarterback Drake Maye (10) throws the ball to graduate student tight end Kamari Morales (88) for a touchdown during UNC's opening game against Florida A&M at Kenan Stadium on Aug. 27, 2022. UNC won 56-24.
Buy Photos Freshman quarterback Drake Maye (10) throws the ball to graduate student tight end Kamari Morales (88) for a touchdown during UNC's opening game against Florida A&M at Kenan Stadium on Aug. 27, 2022. UNC won 56-24.

Just after midnight on Sunday morning, Drake Maye waltzed into his first postgame press conference as the starting quarterback for the North Carolina football team.

Maye’s presence commanded the Kenan Football Center auditorium in much the same way that he commanded the Tar Heels in Saturday’s 56-24 victory over Florida A&M. The redshirt first-year possessed an air of confidence that felt more akin to a seasoned veteran than an inexperienced player.

“I like being in here better than down (on the field),” he joked to the reporters.

Maye isn’t your run-of-the-mill college quarterback, of course. After the game he received congratulatory texts from Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell and his older brother Luke — a former All-American basketball player at UNC. Outside, his father Mark, once the starting quarterback for North Carolina, waited for the presser to end.

Maye’s first college start was always going to be a spectacle. There was never really a choice, given that he was not only following in the footsteps of his iconic Tar Heel relatives but also in the footsteps of Howell, the most decorated quarterback in UNC history.

But if Saturday’s game was a test of Maye’s ability to take the reins of the program, he passed with flying colors. In a fiery offensive performance, Maye threw for five touchdowns  — a program record for a debut — and accounted for 349 of the team’s 608 total yards.

“(It was) one of the best first games I’ve ever seen,” head coach Mack Brown said. “He was poised, he was accurate, the running ability was good.”

Any UNC player or coach will say that Maye is one of the most competitive players on the team. Perhaps that’s best illustrated by the plays he made on the ground rather than the ones he made through the air.

Early on in the first quarter, with the score tied at zero in a 3rd-and-9 situation, Maye broke free of the defense on a designated quarterback run. Instead of sliding after making the first down, Maye kept his eyes locked downfield, evading tackles and lowering his shoulder into defenders for a 42-yard pickup. The drive ended in a 19-yard touchdown pass to graduate tight end Kamari Morales.

Later in the third quarter, Maye took a shot at the end zone again on another scramble play. On FAMU’s 8-yard line, Maye swept to the right and attempted to leap over a Rattler defender, taking the hit to the legs and helicopter flipping over the pylon. The referees subsequently ruled Maye out of bounds at the one-yard line, but first-year running back Omarion Hampton punched the ball into the endzone on the next play.

In the eyes of Brown, the play was unnecessarily reckless. But it also illustrated just how driven Maye is to make each and every play.

“When he was about to go over the bar I said ‘No, man. Come on,’” Brown said. “But he is a competitor.”

Maye doesn’t supplement his confidence with cockiness, though. At one point, he was asked which of the passes he made on Saturday was his favorite.

“I wish I had a lot of throws back, that’s for sure,” Maye responded, before going on to credit the offensive line and running backs for the offensive performance.

Of course, Maye threw the ball much better than he gave himself credit for. He found an instant connection with junior wide receiver Josh Downs, who finished the game with nine catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns.

Downs, who grew into a star last season catching deep balls from Howell, said he’s noticed a lot of similarities between Maye and his predecessor.

“I say Drake smiles a little more than Sam,” Downs said. “But they’re both great mentally and they’re gamers.”

Downs wasn’t the only target Maye looked to. He threw the ball all over the field, completing two or more passes to seven different receivers. Several of those receivers had very little in-game experience before Saturday, such as redshirt first-year Gavin Blackwell who tallied 36 yards and a touchdown.

When Maye was announced as the starter last Monday, UNC’s coaching staff fully endorsed the young quarterback’s ability to lead the team. After Saturday night, it was apparent that the players had rallied behind Maye, too.

“I feel like he can lead us to a lot of victories,” Downs said. “So I’m excited about the future.”

@LucasThomae

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.



Comments

The Daily Tar Heel's 2022 Year in Review

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive