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UNC Football: Tar Heels escape with a win over App State after complete defensive meltdown

Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Appalachian State Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

If last week was an indictment of UNC’s defense, dear reader, then today was a full-on conviction. The Tar Heels’ offense needed 63 points to get out of Boone with a narrow 63-61 win over the Mountaineers in a game that Appalachian State was centimeters away from winning. Gene Chizik’s defense surrendered an utterly painful 40 points in the fourth quarter to turn what had been a comfortable 20-point lead into a nail-biter late.

App State had the upper hand early on, racing out to a 21-7 lead in the first half. Carolina responded in a big way with three touchdowns in the second quarter before allowing one more touchdown to make it a 28-21 game at halftime. Thirteen points for Carolina in the third quarter while keeping the Mountaineers off the scoreboard put some healthy distance between the two teams, and it felt like it might be a stress-free afternoon for Heels fans.

Haha, no.

App State scored two quick touchdowns early on in the fourth quarter to tighten things to 41-35 with lots of time left on the clock. A 71-yard run by Caleb Hood set up a two-yard touchdown for the Tar Heels with a two-point conversion to make it a two-score game. App State covered those two scores with back-to-back touchdowns before Drake Maye hit DJ Jones down the middle for a 42-yard touchdown. If you felt good about things here, you weren’t alone. Alas.

The Mountaineers got the ball back with 38 seconds left on the clock and scored to bring themselves a PAT away from tying the game and sending it to overtime. Doing the smart thing, they decided to go for two instead of the tie. Chase Brice had Deshaun Davis wide open, but the quarterback just overthrew it and the ball sailed above Davis’ grasp.

Somehow, none of the coaches on the UNC sideline told the hands team to fall on the ball on the onside kick attempt. Carolina recovered it...and took it in for a touchdown. That should have been a good thing, but this game was determined to cause emotional and physical pain. The defense had no answers — again — and the Mountaineers were able to pull to within two. Their attempt at the two-point conversion was, once again, no good, and the Tar Heels escaped.

Six touchdowns surrendered in the quarter. More than 50 yards of penalties on behalf of the Tar Heels in the quarter. Allowing 664 yards of total offense. It was an unmitigated mess. It’s a miracle they made it out with a win.

All of that being said, the offense was up to the challenge. Drake Maye was excellent again, throwing for 352 yards and four touchdowns on top of rushing for 76 yards and a score as well. Putting up 63 points without Josh Downs is truly a feat. They shouldn’t have been in a position where they needed such heroics, but that’s already been covered.

Maye spread the love around with Downs out for the game, hitting four different guys for touchdowns in the game. Kobe Paysour, JJ Jones, Bryson Nesbit, and DJ Jones all found the end zone through the air. Both of the main running backs, George Pettaway and Omarion Hampton, also had a touchdown each. The Tar Heels had 567 yards of total offense.

Carolina simply has to get better from here. They were undisciplined — racking up 115 penalty yards — and they simply cannot survive so much being asked of the offense against opponents moving forward. Maye has proven to be very good so far, but all of his success was very nearly wasted by an embarrassing showing by the defense in the fourth quarter.

I guess there’s this...

UNC has another road test to contend with next week as they travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia State.