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Monday March 20th

UNC overcomes underdog label, but Hail Mary attempt falls short against Oregon in Holiday Bowl

Junior defensive back, Storm Duck (3), and sophomore linebacker, Power Echols (23), go in for the tackle in Kenen Stadium on Sept. 24, 2022, at the UNC game against Notre Dame. UNC lost 45-32.
Buy Photos Junior defensive back, Storm Duck (3), and sophomore linebacker, Power Echols (23), go in for the tackle in Kenen Stadium on Sept. 24, 2022, at the UNC game against Notre Dame. UNC lost 45-32.

As Drake Maye’s Hail Mary pass sailed through the San Diego sky, the North Carolina football team's final chance of having its first 10-win season in seven years hung in the balance. But in the battle to come down with the ball, the prayer from UNC's redshirt first-year quarterback was not answered.

The throw easily reached the end zone, but UNC's receivers couldn't fight through the mass of Oregon defenders to haul in what would have been the game-winner. After a tightly contested four quarters, Oregon came away with the 28-27 win in Wednesday night's Holiday Bowl.

Not everyone expected the game to be as close as it was though, as No. 15 Oregon was a 13-point favorite ahead of the game. UNC head coach Mack Brown said he was proud of the way his team performed.

“Nobody gave us a chance in the game, and we had a chance with one second left,” Brown said. “That’s all we could ask for in this situation.”

Despite reaching nine wins in its first ten games of the season, UNC limped into the bowl game with three-straight losses. 

With a lucky tap of the heel with less than a minute remaining in the first half of Wednesday's bowl game, it seemed like UNC's fortunes were beginning to change.

Tied 14-14, Oregon drove into the red zone looking to go into halftime with the lead. However, a pass from Ducks quarterback Bo Nix fell short of his intended target and the ball bounced off the feet of linebackers Cedric Gray and Power Echols. The football fell right into Echols' hands, resulting in an interception on the 11-yard line.

Just a play later, Maye connected with redshirt first-year Kobe Paysour for a 49-yard touchdown. The momentum rapidly shifted as UNC went into halftime leading 21-14.

“In the first half, after we went up seven, that was the most fun I had the entire season out there tonight,” Maye said. “To see the guys, the energy on the sideline, all the smiles going into the locker room. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”

Though the offense couldn’t gain significant traction after the fact, the defense did, holding Oregon scoreless for over 30 minutes of game time, all the way from six minutes into the second quarter to midway through the fourth quarter.

“We made some adjustments,” Gray said. “If you watched us on the sideline, guys are talking, having very high-level conversations about what happened and what adjustments can we make. Once we made those adjustments, we started to get a lot more comfortable throughout the game and started to get stops.”

The defense couldn’t hold Oregon quiet for the rest of the game, though. Eventually, the Ducks broke through and scored a touchdown with seven minutes remaining to inch within a field goal of the lead.

While Maye and the offense have been able to put points on the board when it matters, going 6-2 in one-score games, they couldn’t make it happen against Oregon. The Tar Heels made it onto the Ducks' side of the field on all three of their fourth-quarter drives, but every time were unable to score a touchdown.

On one of those drives, UNC opted to take a field goal on the two-yard line to go up by six points. The decision kept Oregon within striking distance of the Tar Heels for the remainder of the game.

“Should we have gone for it? Probably should’ve,” Brown said. “I was a little hesitant because Drake was on his head and they had slung him down and they put it at the three, so I said no. Then they moved it to the two, and if there’s second-guessing on my part, you should kick the field goal.”

Following the loss, North Carolina will have eight months to ruminate on what it could have done differently to avoid the four-game losing streak. For now, Brown said the team will celebrate the accomplishments of one of the more successful seasons in UNC football history before beginning to prepare for next year.

“This is one heck of a season for North Carolina,” Brown said. “It could have been 10 (wins), could have been 11, but most of (the players) are coming back and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”


@dthsports |

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