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Sunday February 5th

Maye adds another chapter to historic season with dominant showing at Wake Forest

UNC red shirt first-year QB Drake Maye (10) passes the ball during UNC's match against Wake Forest at Truist Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. UNC won 36-34.
Buy Photos UNC red shirt first-year QB Drake Maye (10) passes the ball during UNC's match against Wake Forest at Truist Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. UNC won 36-34.

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.

In the first 30 minutes of play, Maye completed 19 of his 26 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns. The numbers could have been even higher, but key drops resulted in the incompletions.

The second half was a different story, as injuries to Downs and senior wide receiver Antoine Green stalled a number of the Tar Heels' scoring opportunities. Wake Forest also made several adjustments by applying tighter pressure on the outside. On two different drives, UNC registered 10 or more plays only to turn the ball over on downs deep into the Demon Deacons' territory. 

The final stat line looks gaudy — finishing with 584 yards and five touchdowns is usually enough to pull away from a team  — yet head coach Mack Brown knows he can challenge the offense to climb to another level.

"This team can get so much better," Brown said. "I got mad at the offense today because we should have scored three other touchdowns, but then I look up and see we've got nearly 600 yards of offense." 

As the Tar Heels enter the homestretch of the season and eventually prepare to face Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, it's become abundantly clear the Tar Heels will only go as far as Maye takes them.

For a quarterback that had to battle for the starting job all offseason, with just two games remaining, Maye has vaulted himself into legitimate contention to be the program's first Heisman finalist in over 70 years. 

But despite the uptick in national attention, his focus remains dialed on one constant — taking advantage of the chances that are given to him.

"I try to focus on winning football games," Maye said. "That honor, that trophy just comes with playing more games and that's our main job. And whatever they decide, I have some great players I'm playing with."  

@hunternelson_1 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com 

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