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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC football falls to Oregon, 28-27, in Holiday Bowl thriller

UNC sophomore tight end Bryson Nesbit (18), runs the ball in Kenan Stadium on Nov. 19, 2022, as the Tar Heels face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The North Carolina football team (9-5, 6-2 ACC) fell to the No. 15 Oregon Ducks (10-3, 7-2 Pac-12), 28-27, in the 2022 Holiday Bowl at Petco Park on Wednesday night.

What happened?

After the Oregon defense sacked redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye on third down on the Tar Heels' opening drive, UNC’s offense was forced to punt from its own end zone, giving the Ducks their first possession at their own 46-yard line. Oregon running back Bucky Irving rushed 23 yards followed by another two to complete a six-play, 54-yard drive to record the first touchdown of the game. 

The next drive began with UNC first-year running back George Pettaway receiving the kickoff in his own end zone and returning it 56 yards to the Ducks’ 44-yard line. After overcoming a first-and-20 following a penalty and needing to convert a fourth-and-one, Maye found first-year wide receiver Andre Greene in the corner of the end zone on third-and-goal to put the Tar Heels on the board.

After a sack on Oregon quarterback Bo Nix and a couple of strong defensive stops, Oregon was forced to attempt an unsuccessful 47-yard field goal, giving the Tar Heels the ball on the 30-yard line. Maye had a 20-yard run, but after throwing consecutive incomplete passes, he went for it on the fourth-and-six, throwing a bullet down the middle to sophomore wide receiver J.J. Jones for a first down. Following a sack, the drive ended on a missed 34-yard field goal.

On Oregon’s third play of the next drive, Irving broke to the left for a 66-yard touchdown, putting the Ducks up 14-7. After the Tar Heels recorded four first downs, Maye launched a bomb down the middle to sophomore Bryson Nesbit, connecting for a 14-yard touchdown to complete the drive and tie the game at 14.

With Oregon threatening at UNC’s 16-yard line, sophomore linebacker Power Echols intercepted Nix’s pass at the 11-yard line and returned for 40 yards. With 35 seconds on the clock, Maye caught redshirt first-year wide receiver Kobe Paysour in stride at the 28-yard line, and Paysour took it to the end zone to give the Tar Heels a 21-14 lead at half.

UNC’s defensive line had a perfect start to the second half by forcing a three-and-out, but the Ducks’ defensive line returned the favor. UNC’s defense was making the Ducks work, forcing a turnover on downs after an unsuccessful 13-play drive. The Tar Heels got the ball at their 27-yard line, but an incomplete followed by a loss of yards on third down prevented them from converting. However, a good punt was downed by senior Drew Little inside the 1-yard line.

After a quick stop by the UNC defense, an illegal substitution penalty gave the ball back to Oregon for the first down. The Ducks started the fourth quarter at the third-and-five, but could not convert, giving the Tar Heels the start in good field position. Maye connected with Paysour on a 25-yard pass, followed by two more deep passes to put UNC at third-and-goal. The Tar Heels ended the drive with a field goal to increase their lead to 10.

With just under seven minutes to play, Nix passed into the end zone for a wide open touchdown, putting the Ducks within three. On the next drive, the Tar Heels went deep, but they finally had to settle for a 44-yard field goal, giving them a 27-21 lead with under three minutes to go.

A pass interference on UNC’s defense gave the Ducks an automatic first down at the 21-yard line. With 20 seconds on the clock, they were able to convert on the fourth down, adding an extra point that bounced off the goalposts to win 28-27.

Who stood out? 

Maye threw for 206 yards and three touchdowns and added 45 rushing yards. Junior linebacker Cedric Gray had strong game on defense, recording eight tackles.

Nix and Irving were a fiery duo for the Ducks. Irving had 149 rushing yards and two touchdowns and Nix passed for 205 yards and tallied two touchdowns.

When was it decided?

The game belonged to anyone until the last seconds, when Oregon snatched a 1-point lead with just 19 seconds on the clock. Despite a penalty giving the Tar Heels the ball at the 48-yard line, their Hail Mary attempt was unsuccessful as time expired. 

Why does it matter?

After losing its last three games of the season, UNC came into the Holiday Bowl looking to end the season on a high note. Although the Tar Heels entered as 14-point underdogs, they more than held their own and kept Oregon on its heels for the entirety of the game. 

After losing junior wide receiver Josh Downs to the NFL Draft, the wide receiver corps proved there are players ready to contribute in the near future.

When do they play next?

The Holiday Bowl concludes UNC’s 2022 season.

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