When Clemson junior running back Phil Mafah recorded a 3-yard touchdown to bring the Tigers out to a 21-7 lead, Omarion Hampton quickly responded.
The sophomore running back's third-quarter 55-yard rushing touchdown brought the No. 22 Tar Heels within a score of the Tigers, but it wasn't enough to initiate a UNC comeback. North Carolina fell, 31-20, in Death Valley on Saturday to a Clemson team that, per Mack Brown's words, has woken up in recent games.
Saturday marks the Tigers' sixth straight win over the Tar Heels and UNC's largest margin in a loss since its 39-10 defeat to Clemson in the 2022 ACC Championship. That title game loss also marks the last time North Carolina scored less than 25 points.
Following Hampton's explosive third-quarter score, Clemson running back Will Shipley rushed for a 33-yard touchdown. The Tar Heels soon entered the fourth quarter trailing for the first time this season, facing a 14-point deficit at 28-14.
After a 21-yard field goal from Tiger graduate kicker Jonathan Weitz, Hampton recorded a 3-yard touchdown to cut UNC's deficit to 11 points at 31-20, but that's as close as the Tar Heels would come in the final quarter.
The game quickly slipped from UNC's grasp in the second half despite a rather dominant start.
“First quarter, I felt like we had a chance to get up on them and get a jump on them," sophomore quarterback Drake Maye said. "But we just hurt ourselves, kind of shot ourselves in the foot.”
The Tar Heels got out to a quick lead after Maye launched a pass off his back foot to junior wideout J.J. Jones for a 33-yard touchdown.
Despite gaining 198 yards, UNC only led 7-0 after the first quarter thanks in part to Hampton's two fumbles — his first and second of the season. He recorded both in the red zone, with the latter on what would've been a 64-yard rushing touchdown to put North Carolina up 14-0.