RALEIGH, N.C. –– As the seconds ticked down in the final plays of the second quarter, I saw North Carolina’s hopes of another victory slip away from reach as they got off to a sleepy start in their regular season finale against the Wolfpack.
UNC dug themselves into an inescapable hole as they fell 39-20 to end their regular season campaign with an 8-4 record.
It was a new low for the Tar Heels as the Wolfpack dominated on every possession jumping to a 26-7 lead going into halftime. They scored points on each of their first eight drives, which included four touchdowns and four field goals.
“We were awful in the first half,” said UNC head coach Mack Brown after the loss. “As bad as I’ve ever seen us. We were awful on offense. We did some good things on defense early and then stayed out there too long and let them score.”
UNC-N.C. State has traditionally been a close matchup, but the Pack throttled the Tar Heels – scoring 23 straight points to start the night, as North Carolina left each drive empty handed.
Watching this lack of production from an offense that has been on fire all season was unexpected. They simply failed on all cylinders, as their red-hued foes forced four punts and a Drake Maye fumble in the first half.
Maye also didn’t complete a pass until the second quarter of the game; a pass to tight end John Copenhaver that once again ended up being an empty drive. It was the second week in a row that he’s struggled after suffering his worst completion rate against Clemson last Saturday. He ended the night with 254 passing yards, two touchdown scores and two interceptions.
At halftime, I packed up my things and left the press box wanting to experience first-hand what it felt like to be in the student section of the opposing team. From dozens of expletives to jeering fans, the scene was amplified as the Wolfpack put the game away and beat the Tar Heels for the third year in a row.
Like I said in my preview, Brennan Armstrong was gonna be a problem and last night he completed 22-of-31 of his passes for 334 yards adding on three touchdowns.
“Brennan Armstrong did a tremendous job,” Brown said. “We didn’t put pressure on him and he hit everybody. They were all open and he made some great throws, so gotta give him a lot of credit. I thought he’s played really well since he’s come back in. I bragged on him on Monday because it’s hard for a kid to get benched and come back and do what he’s done.”
While his run game was meager – totaling just 22 yards on nine carries, he didn’t need to be stellar because wide receiver Kevin Concepcion did the job for him.
The true freshman has been invaluable for the Wolfpack, accounting for a team-high eight receiving touchdowns on the season. The Tar Heels knew that going into the contest yet weren’t prepared to slow the speedster down as he collected 131 receiving yards, 55 rush yards and two touchdowns. He was the leading rusher for the Wolfpack and gave UNC’s defense the work, confusing reserve star DJ Jones in
coverage and evading Don Chapman on a slant route for his first score of the game.
UNC’s defensive unit allowed 39 points and 504 yards, both of which were season highs this season for the Wolfpack. And so as the fireworks lit the sky red, the Tar Heels sauntered off the field unsure of what lies ahead for their future.
North Carolina closed out the regular season dropping four of their last five ACC games and will now await a bowl game assignment. They’ll know who they face the Sunday after the ACC championship game in Charlotte this upcoming weekend which will feature Louisville and Florida State.