Another nailbiter: the #15 Tar Heels escape with a 36-34 over the Deacs
Preview: #15 University of North Carolina Tar Heels (8-1, 5-0) vs Wake Forest University Demon Deacons (6-3, 2-3)
Games in November are very meaningful, especially when ESPN2 (7:30pm EST kickoff) comes calling (among other special guests).
For the 15th ranked Tar Heels, a win tonight over their oldest rival (as UNC-Wake is the oldest college football rivalry in the state of North Carolina) is more than just bragging rights (and building on their 2-game winning streak in the series) and a conference win. A win tonight clinches the ACC Coastal Division and an automatic berth in the ACC Championship Game.
Led by Drake Maye (R-Freshman) at quarterback (2964 passing yards/71.2% completion percentage/31 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, the Tar Heels boast one of the top offenses in the country as they average 40.6 points per game. Along with being the team's leading rusher (513 rushing yards/4.5 yards per carry/4 touchdowns), Maye leads a ground game which features 3 backs with 200 or more rushing yards and an overall average of 4.6 yards per carry. Complimented by wideouts Josh Downs (63 receptions for 693 yards and 8 touchdowns) and big-play receiver Antoine Green (26 receptions for 597 yards/23.0 yards per reception/6 touchdowns), they'll look to put pressure on a Wake defense allowing 27.3 points per game. However, the UNC defense (allowing 31.0 points per game) faces an equally stiff test as the Deacons' offense averages 431.9 yards per game and despite their 2-game winless streak, still averages 36.9 points per game. On defense, tackle-machine Cedric Gray (98 total tackles) and Power Echols (74 total tackles) form a solid linebacker duo as they look to apply what pressure they can (as the Heels have 14 total sacks all season, while Wake has allowed 28).
As for Wake Forest, they are looking to halt their current winless streak, including improved ball protection as they have turned the ball over 11 times in the past 2 games and are at an uncharacteristically -3 in turnover ratio. Quarterback and team captain Sam Hartman (2423 passing yards/62.7% completion percentage/24 touchdowns and 9 interceptions) looks to set the tone, including complimentary running from backs Justice Ellison (453 rushing yards/4.2 yards per carry/4 touchdowns) and Christian Turner (382 rushing yards/4.1 yards per carry/6 touchdowns). Wideouts AT Perry (47 receptions for 711 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Jamal Banks (33 receptions for 477 yards/8 touchdowns) look to lead a receiving corps and attack the UNC defense which is allowing 277.6 passing yards per game. On defense, linebacker Ryan Smenda, Jr (75 total tackles), defensive back Malik Mustapha (52 total tackles/3.5 sacks), and defensive end Rondell Bothroyd (5 sacks) look to apply pressure to a Tar Heel offense averaging 496.8 yards per game yet has only allowed 14 sacks all season.
With the last 3 games in the series (a 24-18 win by Wake in 2019, followed by a 59-53 win by UNC in 2020 and a 58-55 nailbiter for 2021) being compelling and closely contested games, this game is setting up to be another exciting matchup as UNC holds a 7-6 edge in the last 13 games, but has not won in Winston-Salem since 2004.
Game recap: the Tar Heels escape with a 36-34 win over the Deacs
Wake starts with the ball (for the 1st quarter and game), but it's UNC who gets the scoring started.
On their 1st possession, Drake Maye engineers a scoring drive capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Josh Downs to give the Tar Heels an early 7-0 lead (9:17 in the 1st quarter). They would add another score nearly 2 minutes later as Elijah Green's 5-yard touchdown run would make it a 14-0 game.
Wake would respond as Sam Hartman would direct the offense to a touchdown drive with 3:21 left in the first quarter (a 7-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Morin) to make it a 14-7 game.
Early in the 2nd quarter, Maye would lead UNC to another scoring drive, as Josh Downs' 2nd touchdown reception of the game (7-yards) would give them a 21-7 lead.
The Deacons would respond not only with 2 scoring drives of their own, but a pair of sacks by Jasheen Davis to slow down the Tar Heel offense. Thanks to major 4th down conversions to not only continue a drive but to garner a 1-yard plunge by Christian Turner, Wake cuts the deficit to 21-14 (9:13 in the 2nd quarter) and at the 4:06 mark, complimented by a key 4th down reception by Taylor Morin, Hartman's 7-yard touchdown pass to Donavon Greene ties the game at 21.
To close out the half, UNC would get a late score in the 2nd quarter (2:22) thanks to a 20-yard catch by Josh Downs, his 3rd of the game, to give the Tar Heels a 27-21 halftime lead (the extra point is missed).
In the second half, the Tar Heels start with the ball, but it's the Deacs who get on the scoreboard.
Sam Hartman connects with AT Perry for a 32-yard scoring strike to give Wake a 28-27 lead. However, UNC would answer at the 5:27 mark thanks to a 5-yard touchdown run by Drake Maye to give the Tar Heels a 33-28 lead.
The Wake defense would make a stand with a stop of the Tar Heels' effort for a 2-point conversion. As a response, the offense would generate another scoring drive at the 4:26 mark as Hartman connects with Donavon Greene in stride for a 60-yard touchdown pass (his 2nd touchdown reception of the game) as Wake would retake the lead (34-33).
UNC would take a 36-34 lead (field goal in the 4th quarter with 2:12 left) after an interception of Wake's Sam Hartman. After running out the clock, the Tar Heels escape Winston-Salem with a win, their first one at Truist Field in 18 years.
Post-game: the #15 University of North Carolina Tar Heels (9-1, 6-0) escape with a 36-34 win over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-4, 2-4)
Tonight's game holds to form as it is decided by a touchdown or less for the 4th straight game.
In the post-game press conference, head coach Dave Clawson applauds the team's effort, but as with any competitor, is disappointed with the outcome (as this is the 3rd consecutive loss for the Deacs). Players Taylor Morin, Kobe Turner, and Jasheen Davis speak to the team's focus leading into next week's game against Syracuse.
Both teams are able to move the ball against each other (UNC outgains Wake 584-490) and even though the Tar Heels outgain the Deacs in the air (448 to 320), Wake's running game (170 rushing yards/4.1 yards per carry) provides an added boost as compared to the Tar Heels (who average 3.6 per carry).
UNC quarterback Drake Maye (31/49 for 448 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 19 carries for 71 yards and a rushing touchdown) lead the Tar Heel offense. Josh Downs (11 receptions for 154 yards and 3 touchdowns) provides additional support, and on defense, Cedric Gray (9 total tackles), Storm Duck (8 total tackles), and Cam'ron Kelly's interception (the only turnover of the game) help with the team win.
Wake's Sam Hartman (18/31 for 320 yards, along with 4 touchdowns and 1 interception), Justice Ellison (16 carries for 81 yards), Taylor Morin (5 receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown), and Donavon Greene (4 receptions for 85 yards and 2 touchdowns) lead the offense. Ryan Smenda, Jr's 16 total tackles and Jasheen Davis' 2.5 sacks lead the team defense.
Next week, the Tar Heels host Georgia Tech while the Deacs look to rebound on Senior Night against Syracuse.
Notes: this article is written by Andrew Snorton. Ja'Lia Taylor is a contributor with all in-game video as all post-game video is recorded by Andrew Snorton; all photos are recorded by Andrew Snorton (a collection of pre and in-game action from the first half).