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Friday December 9th

Maye steps up on the road, leads UNC to hard-fought victory at Appalachian State

<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.

BOONE, N.C. — Drake Maye likes to play on the road. In fact, he prefers it. 

If Saturday was any indication — when the North Carolina football team beat Appalachian State, 63-61, in front of a record crowd at Kidd Brewer Stadium — he’s built for it, too. 

After Maye had already amassed three passing touchdowns, thrown for over 350 yards while running for 76 more and dapped up former UNC star quarterback Sam Howell following his lone rushing touchdown earlier the afternoon, the redshirt first-year dropped back for one last pass late in the fourth quarter. 

With defenders in his face, he braced for a hit, leaned on his back foot and slung it downfield to running back D.J. Jones. The pair connected for a touchdown that gave the Tar Heels a 56-49 lead and despite all the eventual chaos that ensued  — where the Mountaineers had a number of chances to pull off an improbable comeback win — North Carolina never trailed again.

The Tar Heels didn’t win a single road game last season. Maye won his first as a starter. 

“Obviously home games are fun, but I enjoy away games a little more,” Maye said. “Going into someone’s house and coming away like this, that feeling is pretty cool.” 

To hear head coach Mack Brown tell it, Maye’s performance on Saturday indicated that he’s special, and that in the coming years, with more snaps at the college level, his profile will only rise. 

When faced with pressure, Maye demonstrated his full skillset on Saturday: releasing the ball quickly and with adjusted arm angles, avoiding hits and pulling down for a gain and even connecting with receivers downfield while on the move. 

“He’s got a great feel in the pocket,” Brown said. “I think he’s got everything. He’s got everything except experience.” 

To Brown’s point, Maye’s performance on Saturday didn’t quite reach perfection. He fumbled in North Carolina territory early in the fourth quarter to help the Mountaineers steal momentum and at times struggled to communicate over the crowd noise. 

But despite occasional missteps, Brown said the offensive personnel is already confident in his ability to lead the team, two games into his career as a starter.

“They’re so confident in Drake, and he’s earned that, he showed it in the spring, he showed it in the preseason,” Brown said. “He’s old beyond his years.” 

Missing injured wide receiver Josh Downs — who Brown said is UNC’s best offensive player — a young crop of inexperienced weapons had to step up in Boone. At the top of that list was redshirt first-year Kobe Paysour, who had just seven career receiving yards entering Saturday.

Maye targeted him eight times, completing every attempt. Paysour finished with a team-high 92 yards and a touchdown to boot.

“Me and Drake, we’ve been throwing together since we were in high school, so our connection has been there since before college,” Paysour said. 

The pair live together at UNC, and if Saturday was any indication, their connection could be integral to UNC’s success in the coming years, and potentially even sooner in Downs' absence.

Maye connected with seven other receivers on Saturday, also hitting sophomore wideout J.J. Jones and sophomore tight end Bryson Nesbit in the end zone.

After his five combined touchdown performance, Maye made sure to note his mistakes. He thought about them on the sideline throughout the game — even if he admits it's a bad habit to fall into. Despite nearing quarterbacking perfection on Saturday, Maye knows there’s still work to be done. 

“Every game, a little more confidence is instilled,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’ve gotta watch the film and I’ve got a lot of stuff to work on.”

@zachycrain

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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