WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In a high-scoring affair, the No. 15 North Carolina football team (9-1, 6-0 ACC) picked up a 36-34 win at Wake Forest (6-4, 2-4 ACC) to clinch the program’s first Coastal Division title since 2015.
Wake Forest opened with the ball, and after a false start on a fourth down attempt at midfield, a Demon Deacon punt gave possession to the Tar Heels. UNC took over at its own nine-yard line, but five completions from redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye brought the team deep into opposing territory, and junior wide receiver Josh Downs eventually made a leaping touchdown grab to give the Tar Heels the early lead.
Following another Wake Forest punt, UNC regained possession and immediately went back to work. A 24-yard run by sophomore running back Elijah Green moved the Tar Heels past midfield, and a 45-yard play-action streak to senior wide receiver Antoine Green put the team inside the five. On the next play, Elijah Green ran into the end zone untouched to put UNC up 14-0.
After being bottled up early on, the Wake Forest offense found its rhythm in its third drive. Quarterback Sam Hartman completed five passes for 56 yards, which culminated in a wide-open crossing route touchdown by Taylor Morin to trim the deficit.
On the following drive, UNC scored its third touchdown of the night. After converting a running play on third and seven inside the 10-yard line, Maye found Downs on an underneath route to help the Tar Heels extend the lead.
The Demon Deacons quickly worked their way down the field thanks to a 40-yard catch-and-run on fourth down. On the ensuing fourth-and-one from the goal line, Wake Forest punched it in with a power run by Christian Turner to bring it back to a one-possession game.
After giving up two sacks, the Tar Heels were forced to punt for the first time of the night. A personal foul penalty gave the Demon Deacons great starting field position, and following several conversions, Wake Forest tied the game thanks to a seven-yard touchdown catch from Donavon Greene.
Maye drove the Tar Heels back down the field, and eventually found Downs on a corner route for his third touchdown of the half. The extra point was no good, so UNC went ahead 27-21 heading into the break.
On its opening drive of the second half, UNC drove the ball to the Wake Forest 21-yard line, but the Demon Deacons broke up two straight passes to force a turnover on downs. Wake Forest then took control, as Hartman found star receiver A.T. Perry for a touchdown pass to give the Demon Deacons their first lead of the night.
UNC marched deep into opposing territory once again, but Downs left the game due to a lower-body injury. With Antoine Green also out for the remainder with an injury, the Tar Heels would be without their top two wideouts for the foreseeable future. On third and goal, Maye kept it himself for a five-yard touchdown scamper, although the two-point conversion failed to hold UNC to a 33-28 advantage.
Wake Forest quickly responded with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Greene to regain the lead, but couldn’t convert the two-point attempt, which kept the score at 34-33.
Downs returned to action for the Tar Heels, and following a series of Maye scrambles and timely completions, UNC was on the doorstep of scoring once again. However, on fourth and goal, the Demon Deacons batted down a Maye pass to maintain the slight lead.
UNC forced a key third down, but Morin picked up a 40-yard catch-and-run to help move the ball into the red zone. On a fourth-down attempt a few plays later, the Tar Heels' defense recorded its biggest play of the night by holding Hartman short on a scramble to help the offense regain possession with just under nine minutes remaining.
However, UNC couldn't cash in on this opportunity. On third down, the Demon Deacons brought pressure and sent Maye to the turf, which forced a punt.
After a pass interference penalty on third down, the UNC defense came up with a huge stop thanks to an interception from senior defensive back Cam'Ron Kelly. On the next play, Maye hit Downs to bring the ball within the five-yard line. The Demon Deacons held the Tar Heels out of the end zone, but a 34-yard field goal by sophomore Noah Burnette UNC go up 36-34 with 2:12 to play.
When Wake Forest took possession, the Tar Heels came up with another defensive stop, as Hartman's fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
The Demon Deacons had one last chance to get a stop, but a designed run from Maye helped the keep possession and eventually come away with the 36-34 win.
Who stood out?
Maye continued his historic season by racking up 519 yards and four total touchdowns.
One week removed from recording a career-high 16 catches at Virginia, Downs led the Tar Heels receiving corps with 11 catches, 154 yards and three scores.
Hartman paced the Demon Deacons with 332 yards and four touchdowns.
When was it decided?
Much like the recent matchups between these intrastate foes, Saturday night’s outing proved to be a shootout with little teams gaining much separation in the first half.
Although the Demon Deacons had numerous opportunities to push their lead, timely defensive stands gave the Tar Heels momentum, and ultimately, the ability to regain the lead late in the fourth quarter.
Following the late defensive stop, the Tar Heels ran out the clock to secure the win.
Why does it matter?
With the win, the Tar Heels clinched the ACC Coastal Division for the first time since 2015, and the team will take on Clemson in the ACC Championhip Game in early December.
One year removed from failing to win a game away from home, the victory helped the Tar Heels finish the regular season unbeaten on the road.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will return to Kenan Stadium next Saturday to take on Georgia Tech. The game will begin at 5:30 p.m.
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