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UNC football team bests Minnesota, 31-13, in the two programs' first-ever matchup

UNC sophomore quarterback Drake Maye (10) avoids Minnesota linebacker Ryan Selig (33) during the football game against Minnesota on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Kenan Stadium.

The UNC football team (3-0, 0-0 ACC) bested Minnesota (2-1, 1-0 B1G), 31-13 Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium in the teams' first ever matchup. 

The opening drive began with a three-yard pass to junior wide receiver Nate McCollum, which set the tone for the rest of the possession. Sophomore quarterback Drake Maye continued to target McCollum, throwing to him five times culminating in a 46-yard touchdown. Junior kicker Noah Burnette made the extra point to give UNC a early 7-0 lead. 

On the ensuing drive, Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis opened with a 25-yard pass to running back Darius Taylor. The Golden Gophers then ran the ball down the center for two consecutive gains. However, their momentum was stifled by senior defensive lineman Desmond Evans who put pressure on Kaliakmanis, causing him to release a shaky pass that junior linebacker Power Echols intercepted.

Maye continued to seek out McCollum, throwing to him on two occasions for 31 yards. 

"I threw around the yard," Maye said. "I've got to make some better decisions early on, but [Nate's] a hell of a player, and he's gonna get open."

However, the offense fell stagnant, with two unsuccessful rushing attempts and a sack on third down to force Maye to punt. 

The Golden Gophers looked stronger on their second offensive attempt, firing off a 13-yard pass followed by a crafty, 16-yard run from Taylor. The UNC defense quickly regrouped and put pressure on Kaliakmanis, almost forcing an interception and turning over possession. 

“Defensively we’re getting better," head coach Mack Brown said. "We are getting better. We played a lot of players on defense in the secondary.”

To start the second quarter, the Tar Heels looked to junior running back Omarian Hampton, who rushed twice for a combined 25 yards. Maye then fired off a 55-yard pass to junior wide receiver JJ Jones to get the Tar Heels within one yard of the end zone. Hampton finished the play, scoring a touchdown to give North Carolina a two-score lead. 

Minnesota was quickly shut down by the UNC defense but got the ball back after Maye threw an interception. This allowed the Golden Gophers to get close enough to the end zone to bring out the punting team and tally their first three points. 

Maye threw a second interception on a pass intended for sophomore wide receiver Gavin Blackwell to turn the ball over, but the UNC secondary effectively halted Minnesota on the following drive. Maye capitalized on the turnover, throwing a 39-yard pass to Jones and a 19-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Bryson Nesbit to put North Carolina up 21-7. 

The half concluded with a strong offensive push from the Golden Gophers, culminating in a rushing touchdown from Taylor, to make the score 21-10. 

The Minnesota offense came out of the gates more aggressive in the second half, completing a nine-play drive to kick a field goal and notch another three points. Maye was sacked for the second time in the game, resulting in a negative gain and granting Minnesota possession. 

The North Carolina defense continued to put on a strong showing, tallying a second interception by graduate defensive back Armani Chatman off a shotgun from backup quarterback Cole Kramer. 

"The quarterback thew it off his back foot, [and I] just went up and grabbed it, that was pretty much it," Chatman said.

UNC’s offense was unable to fully convert on the following drive, forcing the punting unit to attempt a 42-yard field goal, which Kiernan made to make the score 24-13. 

Neither team was able to convert offensively throughout the beginning of the fourth quarter, instead relying on the defense to put in strong performances and hold the line. 

"We all just came together and said they're not getting no more," Echols said.

However, North Carolina picked up momentum with five minutes to go, and graduate running back British Brooks ran the ball into the end zone, to notch the final score of the game. 

Maye finished with 414 passing yards — a stark contrast to his 269 yards against Appalachian State, while McCollum racked up 165 receiving yards.

The Tar Heels will travel to Acrisure Stadium to take on Pittsburgh on Saturday, September 23, at 8 p.m.

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Gwen Peace

Gwen Peace is the 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer. Gwen is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and peace, war and defense.