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Wednesday December 7th

First-year running back Omarion Hampton propels UNC to 35-28 win over Georgia State

<p>First-year running back Omarion Hampton (28) carries the ball down the field during UNC's opening game against Florida A&amp;M at Kenan Stadium on Aug. 27, 2022.</p>
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First-year running back Omarion Hampton (28) carries the ball down the field during UNC's opening game against Florida A&M at Kenan Stadium on Aug. 27, 2022.

Drake Maye — The ACC’s Quarterback and Rookie of the Week — proved on Saturday that he is still a first-year. The Huntersville, N.C. native threw his first interception of the season in the third quarter of UNC’s matchup against Georgia State. 

On a pass intended for redshirt first-year wide receiver Kobe Paysour, who Maye connected with earlier for a highlight reel-worthy touchdown, the rookie missed low and inside. It was a rare mistake for Maye, whose offense went quiet for a good portion of Saturday’s game, allowing the Panthers to go on an unanswered 25-point scoring tear.

“The defense stepped up numerous times after turnovers,” head coach Mack Brown said. “Our offense hasn’t turned the ball over, we turned it over three times today… the offense needs to wake up and go back to work. I think they felt a little too good about themselves.”

If UNC’s offense needed a wake-up call, first-year running back Omarion Hampton’s performance in the second half served as the blaring alarm. 

Hampton, with the help of graduate transfer Corey Gaynor and the rest of the offensive line, helped UNC respond to a late deficit with back-to-back touchdowns that allowed the Tar Heels pull ahead and clinch a 35-28 win.

“Credit to the offensive line, they blocked their butts off in the second half,” Maye said. "I think the gaps were open for Omarion and he took them and the rest is history.”

Down 28-21 with just over 30 seconds to go in the third quarter,  UNC’s split-zone formation opened up a “surreal” gap for Hampton in the middle of the field.

The Tar Heels finally earned their first truly explosive play on the ground, as Hampton burst out for a 58-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 28-28. 

“As soon as it opened up, I knew I had to take it,” Hampton said.

Sprinting straight downhill without any jukes or dodges, Hampton showed a bit of flair in the Georgia State end zone — dropping the ball and putting his finger in front of his mouth to shush the crowd.

“That was one of the bigger moments of the game,” Maye said. “I think it kind of flipped the script.”

Less than two minutes into the final quarter, Hampton put the team on his back again, earning first downs on back-to-back rushes up the middle. At the end of this drive, Hampton flipped into the end zone on a 2-yard carry to help UNC regain the lead.

Still, while Hampton’s tallied over 200 rushing yards in three games so far, his performances haven’t been flawless.

After bursting onto the scene with 101 yards and two touchdowns in his collegiate debut, Hampton was held in check against Appalachian State last weekend, registering just 17 yards on eight carries. 

On Saturday, he faced similar struggles and later admitted to "thinking too much", which was evident when Hampton fielded a kick and immediately slipped out of bounds at the 2-yard line in the first half.

It was a rookie mistake for a first-year who, just like Maye, has shown a veteran-like poise so far this fall. Once he broke out later in the second half, he dealt with both the highs and the lows commonly experienced in a young player.

“I’m really just trying to get a feel for it," Hampton said. "Just trying to get better every week. Just trying to take the process of high school to college.”

After going winless on the road in 2021, Hampton’s performance secured UNC its second straight road victory in three games so far. This is the first time UNC has started off 3-0 since 2011 and marks its first back-to-back road wins since 2016.

While North Carolina's overall offensive struggles do not bode well for the Tar Heels as they soon head into ACC competition and a tough schedule featuring five preseason top-25 teams, Hampton’s performance and slight defensive improvements were a bright spot.

“We got good on defense and on offense we got stuff to work on,” Hampton said. “So if we get to a point where we’re both working together, I feel like we’ll be good.”


@dthsports |

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