In the battle for the Victory Bell, North Carolina and Duke provided a game that will be remembered for years. Between the back and forth nature of the game, the double overtime thrilling win that came down to a missed two-point conversion, and the catharsis of the field rush of the fans, the 2023 version of this rivalry will be talked about for a while.
There’s another reason this one will be remembered, and that’s our player of the game — Drake Maye.
The redshirt sophomore is all set to head to the NFL once this season is completed, and that means even though he didn’t participate in Senior Day festivities Saturday, everyone watching knew this was going to be his last game in Kenan Stadium. He gave the fans something to love from the start, not missing a single pass and then running it on for the first score of the game. He also provided plenty of highlight deep passes, eye-popping plays that turned something into nothing at the last second, a leaping rush in the red zone, and capped off the UNC scoring with a rushing touchdown and then a magical shovel pass to a wide open John Copenhaver for the deciding two point conversion.
He wasn’t perfect. A few of his passes seemed like they were under thrown, he made decisions in RPO situations that were doomed for failure from the start, and he had a horrific interception that led to a Duke score. Still, when you start at your own 1-yard line and you’ve managed magic time and time again, it’s easy to see how he can make a mistake of forcing a little too much. Maye finished the night going 28-43 and 342 yards. He had one passing touchdown, two rushing touchdowns, and just had the one interception. The effort put him over 3100 yards passing for the season, and on a night where Carolina hosted the most NFL scouts for a single game, Drake showed them all what they were there for.
There was real debate about making Noah Burnette the Player of the Game. Honestly, if the Tar Heels had lost or if this wasn’t Maye’s last game in Kenan, Burnette would have been the easy call. After losing his job for missing some important kicks last year, he was pressed back into service quickly and has seized the second chance. He’s only missed one kick all year, and on a night when Carolina’s red zone offense just sputtered, they needed every single point his leg would provide. Burnette went six for six kicking, including making two pressure-packed field goals at the end of regulation and the first OT to keep the score tied and allow the game to continue. The 43-yarder he hit at the end of regulation seemed to be at the edge of his range, and it took almost all 43 of the yards to hook back into the uprights, but unlike last year against State and Oregon, they went through. It’s a great comeback story and he should be recognized for making sure Carolina was able to keep going.
Finally, Tez Walker and Omarion Hampton both had amazing nights. Tez seemed to just catch deep pass after deep pass, racking up 162 yards and should have had more if the passes were just thrown a hair further. Hampton, meanwhile, was a human wrecking ball going for 169 yards, a touchdown, and should have had more as it seemed like there were periods of time when Chip Lindsey forget he existed. Like the red zone. Both picked a great time to show out in front of all of the NFL scouts.
Still, the award goes to Drake. Here’s hoping this isn’t the high point of the season with two important games coming up, but at least he gave the Kenan fans one last great memory.