CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –– For another year, the victory bell stays in Chapel Hill.
When the Tar Heels needed it most, their star quarterback Drake Maye reminded us of his expertise, pulling out his lame game heroics to save the Tar Heels from what could have been a horrific defeat.
“I said I want 100 percent of their effort and I want them to find a way to win,” UNC head coach Mack Brown said. “And they did both. That’s why I’m emotional, because I love these kids and what they stood for and to see them in that locker room, that’s why you coach, because you want these kids to feel great about themselves.”
I came down to the field with five minutes left in the fourth quarter and from that moment on, a slew of emotions from panic to excitement swirled through my body, a feeling that culminated into a 47-45 double overtime thriller win for North Carolina.
With 41 seconds left on the clock, Duke’s Jordan Moore made his second touchdown reception of the night to take the Devils to a three-point advantage. It was a quick nine-play, 75-yard drive and it was a moment where I thought all hope was lost. But Coach Brown still believed.
“This win shows them you can do something when it looks like you can’t and that’s the lesson they learned tonight,” he said. “It’s much bigger than beating Duke. Much bigger.”
Brown came to the 12:30am press conference teary-eyed saying that every team wants his team to do what they just did.
“These kids won a game, down by 3 with 41 seconds left,” he said. “I mean that doesn’t happen in your life. And it was unbelievable that the coaches hung in there and were positive and the kids and you’re just proud of your entire program that they were able to do that.”
UNC’s offense moved just as quickly as Maye led his squad down to the 43-yard line positioning Noah Burnette as the final seconds of regulation ticked down. That was his 5th made kick of the night, he went 6-for-6 and was recognized as ACC Special Teams Player of the Week.
“He made some timely kicks and handled himself really well,” UNC linebacker Cedric Gray said. Two overtime periods later, Maye’s heroics sent Kenan Stadium into an uproar as he rushed into the endzone for a five-yard score. North Carolina went on to stop Duke’s 2-point conversion attempt to tie the game in the second overtime period, a failure that led Tar Heel fans to rush the field.
“It’s just a fairy-tale ending and I’m glad it ended this way,” Maye said after the game. “Would have been heartbroken if it had went the other way. Like I said, no better way against a rival, with the fans storming the field, with Senior Night. Just a lot of emotions, but this is why I came here to Carolina. To play in big-time games and to try to do my best to help us win. Just a dream come true playing quarterback here.”
It was a sight that hadn’t been seen since 2021 when the Tar Heels beat Wake Forest and it was the perfect way to end the latest matchup between the two blue bloods.
As the storm rushed closer, Maye didn’t know what to do with himself saying, “I was just trying to get out of there.”
His ability to perform under pressure has and will always be unreal. Maye can engineer key plays when his team needs it most—whether they decide to capitalize or not—and his heroics have been an identifying component of the program all season long.
“It’s almost natural of Drake to make big plays and that rubs off on all of us as well,” UNC tight end Nesbit said. “So we’re just going to keep making plays and he’ll keep making his plays.”
In his second year as the starting quarterback for the Tar Heels, Maye has cemented himself as one of the all-time greats, ranking 2nd in program history with 12 300-yard passing games, fifth all-time in passing touchdowns (60) and total offense with 8,591 total yards.
For his efforts, he earned yet another notable recognition being named a semifinalist for the 2023 Maxwell Award. The winner will be announced on Dec. 8.
Saturday marked the fifth straight win over the Blue Devils and while Maye’s future in Chapel Hill is still up in the air, his sole focus lies in these remaining two games at Clemson and NC State. If the Tar Heels can pull off wins against these foes, they open up a chance for them to be back in Charlotte for the title game.