UNC vs Appalachian State football games have become absolute rock fights of late, and tonight’s home opener in Kenan Stadium was no exception. Both teams went back and forth after a scoreless first quarter, and the Mountaineers tied the game with a field goal with just 1:22 left on the clock. With UNC needing just a field goal to win and Drake Maye as the quarterback, maybe you were feeling confident at this point.
The good news is that UNC did march down the field, thanks to Maye and Omarion Hampton. They got comfortably into field goal range, ran the clock down, and sent out Ryan Coe for the 39-yard game-winner. Some referee review nonsense brought the game to a halt as they tried to figure out how to handle App State having too many men on the field, and the Mountaineers called their final timeout to try and ice Coe. Coe’s freebie sailed wide left. Oops, but no biggie. It was the freebie.
The real kick was actually worse and more off.
Coe’s miss when it mattered most meant that a tired defense that had trouble containing Appalachian State was tasked with heading to overtime. Both teams scored on the ground in their first possession of overtime. Maye ran in the Tar Heels’ second attempt for a score, but came up short on the obligatory two-point conversion attempt. With everything riding on the defense making a stop, they were able to do just that. It was a wild ride, but Carolina was able to escape with a win.
While the defense had a performance very unlike the one we saw from them last week — zero sacks after recording nine against South Carolina, in particular — perhaps the greatest frustration came in the offensive play calling. Drake Maye is one of the best talents in the country, and it felt like a lot of the game was spent relegating him to short dump-off passes instead of letting him air it out.
Yes, Maye is without Tez Walker and Nate McCollum isn’t 100%, Hampton was a force on the ground, and there was some rain to contend with. All of that is true. Still, it doesn’t feel like a recipe for success to basically handcuff your best player the way much of the game was called tonight.
Maye finished the game with 208 yards passing, no interceptions, and no passing touchdowns. Hampton had 234 yards rushing and three scores. It was the 13th highest total rushing yards in UNC history. The team accumulated 319 yards on the ground total, and 527 overall.
Since the games against the Mountaineers have been so wild, it’s difficult to know which version of UNC is the real one. Last week was a much different story than this one, so it’ll take at least another game to see which pattern takes hold. Hopefully the team spends this week reviewing the tape and noticing the stark difference between when Maye was allowed to air it out and when he wasn’t.
The Tar Heels are home next Saturday against Minnesota.