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Wednesday December 7th

UNC football battles back to beat Georgia State, 35-28, in second straight road victory

<p>Redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye (10) throws the ball at the game versus Appalachian State at Kidd Brewer Stadium on Sept. 3, 2022. The Tar Heels won 63-61.</p>
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Redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye (10) throws the ball at the game versus Appalachian State at Kidd Brewer Stadium on Sept. 3, 2022. The Tar Heels won 63-61.

The North Carolina football team (3-0, 0-0 ACC) defeated Georgia State (0-2, 0-0 Sun Belt) in a 35-28 victory at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta.

What happened?

First-year running back Omarion Hampton received the kickoff and carried the ball to the 24-yard line to start the game. At the tail end of the first UNC drive, redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye remained poised in the pocket on a third-and-long from 55 yards out, evading pressure to his right before connecting with graduate tight end Kamari Morales for a touchdown. With the extra point, North Carolina jumped out to a 7-0 lead.

After two back-to-back stops by both teams, the Panthers got a break when UNC’s senior defensive back Ogi Egbuna was ejected on a targeting call after flattening Georgia State running back Jamyest Williams on the punt return.

The Panthers were awarded 15 yards, moving up to Georgia State’s 31-yard line. UNC senior defensive back Giovanni Biggers nearly recovered the ball later on this drive, before the call on the field was overturned and quarterback Darren Grainger’s throw was called an illegal forward pass. On the next play, Grainger’s pass intended for tight end Kris Byrd was incomplete, forcing a field goal attempt from 46 yards. Kicker Michael Hayes was successful in his attempt, putting three on the board for the Panthers with under five minutes left in the opening quarter.

Georgia State’s run defense continued to be impressive in the first quarter, forcing UNC to punt from deep within its own territory on the next drive. Big defensive plays from sophomore Rara Dillworth on the next drive, including a tough tackle of Grainger for a loss of two yards, kept the Panthers without a touchdown in the first quarter.

Up 7-0 to start the second quarter, UNC quickly added on another seven points thanks to a 7-yard carry by junior running back D.J. Jones and extra point by sophomore kicker Noah Burnette. With UNC up 14-3, Maye connected with first-year wide receiver Kobe Paysour, hitting him on the outside shoulder for a 28-yard reception and UNC’s third touchdown of the game.

Up 21-3 midway through the second quarter, the Tar Heels proceeded to give up 25 unanswered points to the Panthers.

On a third-and-one, Byrd slipped behind the defense and received the pass from Grainger for Georgia State’s first touchdown of the game. Down 21-10 to start the third quarter, UNC gave up a momentum-shifting explosive play when Grainger connected with wide receiver Robert Lewis for 49 yards and a touchdown. A 45-yard field goal a few minutes later brought the Panthers within one point of UNC and the score to 21-20.

With just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Grainger completed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Lewis and found a wide-open Jamari Thrash in the right corner of the end zone for a two-point conversion. Georgia State took the lead for the first time on Saturday, with a score of 28-21.

Hampton, with the help of graduate transfer Corey Gaynor and the rest of the offensive line, helped UNC respond with back-to-back touchdowns to put UNC back up, 35-28.

Who stood out? 

Hampton was a clear standout for his late-game performance, showing great poise as a first-year to bring the Tar Heels back into the game. Hampton's back-to-back touchdowns in the third and fourth quarter put UNC up by seven points after being down by seven. His speed and power made him a consistent offensive threat against Georgia State's impressive rushing defense, as the first-year accrued over 100 rushing yards.

When was it decided?

After being down 28-21, Hampton took over the game late in the second half. His back-to-back touchdowns initiated a 14-point swing for the Tar Heels, essential in regaining UNC's momentum and lead in the game. 

After some struggles later in the fourth quarter, which saw UNC fumble the ball away late, the Tar Heels ultimately held onto their lead despite defensive pressure from the Panthers.

Why does it matter?

After going winless on the road in 2021, Saturday's win gives 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 the team's first back-to-back road wins since 2016.

Still, UNC's offense struggled against Georgia State, highlighted by three turnovers and Maye's first interception of the season. This will not bode well for the Tar Heels as they soon head into ACC competition and a tough schedule featuring five top-25 teams.

When do they play next?

UNC will have a quick break in the upcoming weekend before returning to competition against Notre Dame on Sept. 24. That contest will be North Carolina's first home game in three weeks, with the start time to be determined.

@shelbymswanson 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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