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Sunday January 29th

'We didn’t lose to the little brother': UNC football clinches road test at Duke, 38-35

The UNC football team celebrates their win after the game against Duke on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, at the Wallace Wade Stadium. UNC beat Duke 38-35.
Buy Photos The UNC football team celebrates their win after the game against Duke on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, at the Wallace Wade Stadium. UNC beat Duke 38-35.

DURHAM, N.C. — Road warriors.

Those were the words chanted by Tar Heel players inside Brooks Football Building following UNC’s 38-35 win over Duke. 

UNC’s success on the road this year speaks for itself. After going winless away from Kenan Stadium last season, the Tar Heels are 4-0 outside of Chapel Hill this year. 

“Good teams win on the road and good teams win close games,” head coach Mack Brown said. “And we’ve been able to do that this year.”

But winning such games has not been a common occurrence for the Hall of Famer in his second stint with the Tar Heels. Entering the rivalry contest against the Blue Devils, North Carolina had dropped eight straight primetime games on the road.

In the first half, the Tar Heels looked to be heading down a familiar trail. After UNC took an early 10-7 lead in the first quarter, the Blue Devils answered with two second-quarter touchdowns — highlighted by sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard’s 74-yard rushing score. 

Despite heading into halftime trailing by four points, Brown was confident his team would push through the adversity. 

“They’re playing really hard to the standard I want now,” he said. “They’re playing with confidence; they didn’t give bad body language or give up.”

North Carolina played to Brown’s expectation out of the break, as the Tar Heels entered the final quarter leading by 10. However, a Duke touchdown early in the fourth period and two straight empty possessions for UNC — that included redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye’s second fumble of the night — gave the Blue Devils the ball back with a 35-31 lead. 

As Duke began to methodically drive down the field, the Tar Heels’ chances of a late comeback began to slip away. With less than three minutes remaining, Duke found the end zone, but a penalty negated the score. That same drive later ended with a missed field goal, which gave UNC newfound life.

“After that second penalty — I think it was a chop block penalty — our sideline erupted,” Maye said. “Everybody believed in me and in the offense that if we got the ball back, we were going to go down the field and score.”

Trailing by four with one timeout and roughly two minutes remaining, the road warriors’ true strength was about to be put to the test — a trial junior wide receiver Josh Downs knew the Tar Heels could pass thanks to its quarterback. 

“I’m confident in Drake (Maye),” he said. “I told him before the last drive, ‘You’re the greatest and you know that.’”

Maye approached the critical drive with the same patience he’d played with all season. Rather than trying to score in one or two plays, Maye found his receivers for medium gains to drive UNC into the red zone with less than a minute remaining. 

With time ticking down, Maye found Downs on a quick out-route to covert a crucial fourth down. Three plays later, the Huntersville, N.C. native connected with senior wide receiver Antoine Green in the front corner of the end zone to give UNC the lead for good.

The road warriors had prevailed. 

“It was great to see the fruition of our one-minute drill come to be,” Downs said. “We kept the (victory) bell and we didn’t lose to the little brother.”

@evanr0gers

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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