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UNC Football: Tar Heels surge in the second half to exorcise Charlottesville demons

Another game, another second half comeback for the Tar Heels.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Mack Brown needed a win on the road in Charlottesville after the Cavaliers have made it a point to deny him. It looked, in the first half, like he may have to stay wanting. Virginia had not allowed more than 21 points to a Power 5 opponent all season, but we all know the propensity the UNC defense has for being on the wrong side of records.

Virginia held a 14-10 lead at halftime. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong rushed in for UVA’s first score of the game on a nine-play, 65-yard drive. The Cavs’ offense was gashing the Tar Heels for solid gains on seemingly every play.

The Tar Heels were held to a Noah Burnette field goal on their first drive before getting a rushing touchdown from Drake Maye in the second quarter to take a brief lead. As they have so often this season, much to the chagrin of all of our cardiologists, Carolina used the third quarter to mount a comeback. They were able to get two touchdowns from Elijah Green and Josh Downs while the defense held Virginia to just one touchdown in the quarter.

Green chipped in a decisive touchdown early in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to ten points, which Carolina desperately needed after Armstrong rushed for another touchdown late in the quarter to make it a three-point game again. UNC held on and came away with the win.

Drake Maye threw for 293 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He rushed for 74 yards and the score on the ground. Josh Downs was fantastic, as he always is, with 166 yards and a touchdown to easily lead all of Maye’s receivers. In what feels like more of an exception than the rule in most games this year, Maye was not the leading rusher. Green was able to get quite a bit going on the ground against the Cavaliers, racking up 91 yards with a touchdown.

There is probably not an 8-1 team in the country as frustrating to their fans as this one, at least on the defensive side of the ball. They find a way to win, thanks very much to some heroics on the part of the offense, but it’s just not pretty to watch untalented teams gash through Gene Chizik’s unit every Saturday. Virginia has struggled against pretty much everyone they’ve played this year, but the Carolina defense finds a way to make a subpar unit look pretty respectable for at least a non-zero amount of the game. There are definitely injuries, and that likely plays some role in things not being as sharp as we’d like it to be, but it just feels like constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The struggles of the defense were nearly magnified when Brown decided to get conservative in the fourth quarter. The decision to punt instead of going for it with 7:35 left on the clock could have absolutely bit them if things had broken a slightly different way. It didn’t, so I guess it doesn’t matter, but the game was hardly well in hand at that point. It made for some unnecessary tension in the late going.

So with all that, Carolina moves a step closer to locking up the Coastal and booking a date with Clemson in Charlotte for the ACC Championship. Two (currently) ranked teams still stand between them and the end of the regular season, though, and the Tar Heels will definitely need to play a clean game to come away with a win in those matchups.

UNC travels to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest next Saturday night.