CHAPEL HILL, NC — Living on the edge again, and this time North Carolina teetered in stunning bust. The 13th-ranked Tar Heels couldn’t outlast Drake Maye in his most mortal form and couldn’t sideline the injured Georgia Tech, who rallied for a 21-17 victory, shocking Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
UNC squandered a 17–0 lead and was unable to overcome a second-half deficit for the fifth straight game. And for once, the Tar Heels didn’t have star quarterback Maye performing at a high level worthy of his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
It all came crashing down around the Tar Heels (9-2 overall, 6-1 ACC) during a second half shutout. Josh Downs dropped the potential go-ahead touchdown catch in the end zone on a critical fourth down, UNC’s final play on offense, and the Tar Heels, who went on a six-game winning streak, were soon tied with their first ACC- loss.
Georgia Tech (5-6, 4-4) exhausted the final 4:10 of the game from there and converted three straight third downs to clear the clock. On defense, Georgia Tech sacked Maye six times while racking up 12 tackles for losses to UNC.
Maye arrived as the national leader with 34 touchdown passes on the season. He didn’t throw for a score on Saturday, finishing 16-of-30 passes for 202 yards. The Yellow Jackets unpacked Maye late in the third quarter, one of many scoring opportunities gone wrong for UNC, the No. 1 scoring offense in ACC (40.1 points per game), who struggled to record a season-low scoring achieve output.
Hassan Hall’s 6-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter gave Georgia Tech the lead to stay at 21-17, the third unanswered score for the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech used third-stringer Zach Gibson and fourth-stringer Taisun Phommachanh at quarterback due to injuries.
Georgia Tech main receiver Nate McCullom (upper body injury) was also out. He had 100-yard efforts in each of the last two games.
Boom out the gate
Green’s 80-yard touchdown burst on North Carolina’s first play of Saturday’s game started things off with a big bang and gave the team the longest run of the season, surpassing Caleb Hood’s 71-yard run at Appalachian State in early September.
The angle Georgia Tech safety LaMiles Brooks picked couldn’t explain Green’s speed. He ran off, while Brooks and fellow defenseman Clayton Powell-Lee gave chase.
Green added a 1-yard score late in the first half for a 17–0 UNC lead. That was his eighth touchdown since breaking through on the October 15 breakaway at Duke.
Tar Heels misses shutout in first half
With Kaimon Rucker filling in, Georgia Tech running in third, Storm Duck coming in with an interception of Phommachanh and DeAndre Boykins making plays, the UNC defense was able to record its first first-half shutout of a game this season.
But the Tar Heels left Hassan Hall uncovered in the backfield, and his 36-yard catch and run brought the Yellow Jackets to the UNC 5-yard line. Dontae Smith’s short touchdown run put Georgia Tech on the board with 48 seconds left in the first half, cutting the Tar Heels’ lead to 17–7.
Getting back into the mix
George Pettaway’s 11-yard catch from the backfield in the last minute of the first half was his first reception since UNC’s loss to Notre Dame in late September, and meant the Tar Heels had hit four running backs before Saturday’s game reached halftime . .
Green had fielded all of the rushing attempts for UNC’s running backs in the previous two games, the wins at Virginia and Wake Forest. But Omarion Hampton ran for 35 yards five times, and DJ Jones added a rush and a reception. Hampton had not had a carry since the October 29 victory against Pittsburgh.
Next on the schedule
North Carolina stays home to play rival NC State (7-4, 3-4), the last regular season game of the season at Kenan Stadium and a matchup in front of a national audience on ABC the day after Thanksgiving. The Tar Heels can go up to 10 wins this season. The Wolfpack dropped back-to-back games with Saturday’s 25-10 loss in Louisville.