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Maye's creativity helps UNC football improve to 4-0 for the first time in 26 years

Sophomore quarterback Drake Maye (10) runs for a rushing touchdown against the Pitt Panthers on Saturday, September 23, 2023 at Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA. UNC won 41-24.

PITTSBURGH — Ask anyone on the North Carolina football team if Drake Maye’s left-handed touchdown pass should make SportsCenter’s Top Ten, and they’ll probably say yes.

Well, everyone except Maye. He disagrees and isn’t even planning on checking later. The sophomore quarterback confirmed his opinion with an emphatic “nahhh” following UNC’s 41-24 win at Pitt on Saturday night.

To those who didn't tune in, don’t follow any relevant sports social media platforms or somehow just haven’t seen the play yet, it happened like this: midway through UNC's conference opener, Maye scrambled left toward two Panther defenders after faking a handoff. As he raised his right hand to stiff-arm a tackler, Maye saw sophomore wide receiver Kobe Paysour wide open, braced for impact and tossed a left-handed touchdown.

Shortly after, head coach Mack Brown told his quarterback that if UNC won, Maye’s ad-lib pass would be SportsCenter’s No. 1 play. 

“I think [the pass] would’ve been number one either way,” Brown said. “But I was shocked. I’d never seen him even do that. He just acts like he does it all the time.”

By the end of the night, the play headlined one of Maye's best games so far this season, with 296 passing yards, no interceptions and two additional touchdowns from the ground.

The season-wide implications of Maye’s all-around performance are notable. The reigning ACC Player of the Year seems to have finally found his rhythm after a sluggish start, averaging 355 passing yards in his last two performances.

Brown continued to praise his quarterback after the game, saying that Maye’s lefty improvisation was "maybe the best play [he'd] ever seen in college football." At this point, you can probably guess Maye’s reaction.

“I don’t know about that,” he said with a laugh.

Junior wide receiver J.J. Jones acknowledged the touchdown pass was worth a top-ten appearance. But Jones — who recorded a career-high 117 receiving yards on just six catches — also said that his quarterback makes plays like that "all the time in practice."

“For some people, it looks crazy,” Jones said. “But for us, that’s just who he is.”

Maye and the team are entering unfamiliar territory as North Carolina is 4-0 for the first time in 26 years. But, they recognize there’s still plenty of football left to be played.

“It’s something to build on,” Maye said. “4-0, we got some big ACC games coming, we got the chance to do them at home. That’s a big deal.”

For a program that has recently performed better at opponents’ stadiums — UNC’s seven-game road win streak is the country’s second-longest active stretch behind No. 1 Georgia — the upcoming three consecutive home games will be a significant test. The Tar Heels will face Syracuse and then Miami — both of whom are undefeated.

In the meantime, though, one of the Tar Heels’ priorities will be getting healthy, particularly in the offensive line. Throughout the first three games, Maye was sacked only four times. But on Saturday alone, the Panthers racked up five sacks.

While UNC’s depleted offensive line has put pressure on Maye, the quarterback now appears to be more or less back to last year’s Heisman-candidate form. And when the Tar Heels inevitably find themselves in tight situations as ACC play ramps up, Brown has made it clear that he trusts Maye to lead the way — lefty passes and all.

“We’re just so blessed,” Brown said. “We’re watching one of the best to ever do it.”


@dthsports |

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Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.