WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – With any outside hope of a magical season slowly falling out of grasp, Drake Maye begged for one more chance.
Despite three and a half quarters of throwing darts and moving the chains with timely scrambles, the redshirt first-year quarterback was forced to jog to the sideline as Wake Forest forced a punt, holding a slight 34-33 lead with just over six minutes remaining. As the humming Demon Deacon offense slowly marched down the field, it seemed increasingly likely the Tar Heels’ best playmaker wouldn’t see the field for the rest of the night.
Yet, in a season where the Maye’s historic play have made up for the shortcomings of a bottom-10 defense, the Tar Heels gave their quarterback a lifeline of his own.
After staying home on a run-pass option, senior defensive back Cam’Ron Kelly jumped the passing lane and intercepted a Sam Hartman pass to help UNC take over. From there, Maye drove the offense down the field for a go-ahead field goal to help the Tar Heels steal a 36-34 win and clinch the program’s first Coastal Division title since 2015.
“Cam had Sam (Hartman’s) number last year, so I told him to go out there and get another one,” Maye said. “That pick won us the game.”
After the win, Maye stood along the brick wall at Truist Field trying to hide his budding grin. He might have been the first one to deflect the credit to his teammates, but it shouldn’t take long to state the obvious — the Tar Heels would have been in no position to get the victory without a season-defining performance from their signal caller.
Facing a bevy of blitzes, Maye habitually escaped pressure and slung passes that made NFL scouts shake their heads. When his receivers were covered downfield, he moved outside and gained first downs with his rushing ability, ultimately finishing with a season-high 519 total yards.
“With Drake at quarterback, I don’t think we’re ever going to lose,” junior wide receiver Josh Downs said. “I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that we were going to lose that game, and when Cam got that pick I thought, ‘Yeah, we for sure won.’”
Although the late-game heroics ultimately sealed the win, Maye led a Tar Heel offense that dominated throughout the first half.