Saturday’s matchup between two in-state rivals in Boone reminded us of why we love college football.
The off-season hype surrounding Appalachian State hosting North Carolina for the first time in program-history far exceeded expectations, to the tune of 1,200 yards of total offense, well over 100 points and a thrilling 63-61 Tar Heels victory.
North Carolina’s Drake Maye has already begun solidifying his name as one of the better quarterbacks across college football, and Saturday’s performance of a combined 428 yards and five scores just added to the redshirt freshman’s confidence. His head coach Mack Brown’s, too.
“When you’ve got a great quarterback, you’ve got a chance. And Drake is a great quarterback that will only get better and better,” Brown said. “Drake’s very much like Colt McCoy. I thought that with Sam (Howell) too. He has tremendous talent, and he never rattles anytime during the game.”
The video game-like offensive production, paired with repeated blown coverages and miscues on both defenses, made for an early candidate for game of the year in front of a record 40,168 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
62 points in the final 15 minutes and two 2pt. attempts in the final 31 seconds provided dramatics well beyond the reach of this story - let alone the 45 minutes of action prior that saw multiple double-digit leads evaporate. Let’s dive in, picking up with three minutes to play with the score knotted at 49.
Following the Mountaineers’ furious comeback on the arm of sixth-year quarterback Chase Brice, Maye took the field in crunch time in his first road game as a starter. Although not as loud as Maye imagined, the Rock was deafening as UNC took the field, knowing that one stop could put the Mountaineers in a position to take the lead.
Maye’s confidence didn’t shake, and even with the Mountaineers sending eight defenders on a zero blitz, the Huntersville native used his 6-foot-4 frame to deliver a floater to a wide-open D.J. Jones, who sprinted to the end zone for a 42-yard score on a running back seem.
Maye added: I got power-drove into the ground and just floated one up.”
On the opposite sideline, the Mountaineers had just rebounded from a 20-point deficit and felt like the momentum was theirs for the taking. Appalachian State would get as close as you can possibly get. Twice.
The first 2pt. attempt came with 31 seconds to play following Brice’s picture-perfect touchdown pass to Dashaun Davis. The Mountaineers sent a wideout in a jet-sweep motion across the formation, jumpstarting a rollout to Brice’s right where he targeted Davis again, placing the ball just outside of his reach and dropping incomplete to set up the final 30 seconds.
The unsuccessful conversion warranted a desperation onside kick attempt, which added to the late-game dramatics. North Carolina had opportunity after opportunity to close this game out, including an onside kick returned for a touchdown to extend the game – where a kneel would’ve sealed the contest with 28 seconds on the clock. UNC’s Bryson Nesbit snagged the onside kick, returning it up Carolina’s sideline and diving into the end zone to put North Carolina up eight points. But time was still on the clock.
Brice’s sixth touchdown pass of the game brought the Mountaineers within two points with nine seconds to play. Every fan in attendance and most of the media were on their feet as Appalachian State took the field for the 2pt. attempt to force overtime.
It was the same exact play call as the first attempt.
Brice rolled to his right, searching for a target as the Carolina defenders blanketed the Mountaineers’ wideouts. Brice cut back to his left and reached the ball towards the goal line, where he was met by multiple Tar Heel defenders and came up inches short of the game-tying conversion.
Brice completed 25 of his 37 passes for 376 yards, six touchdowns and an interception. Gutsy performance in the final home-opener of his collegiate career.
While defense was clearly an afterthought, UNC kept the Mountaineers out of the end zone on both conversion attempts and sealed their first road victory in two seasons.
Not sure if anyone had the Mountaineers scoring 40 points in the fourth quarter and still losing on their bingo card, but that’s the type of day it was in Boone.
“I thought we were going to have to go back out there and take it the length of the field with 31 seconds and two timeouts left. And that was doable today,” Brown said. “Then I was worried that when we were kicking off to them with nine seconds left that they had too much time if we didn’t get the onside kick. That’s the day it was.”
Appalachian State jumped out to an early 21-7 lead, before allowing 34 unanswered points from the Tar Heels to blow the game wide open headed to the fourth quarter. Maye’s only blemish on the afternoon was a key fumble in the third quarter, which sparked the Mountaineer rally and made this a game.
Saturday’s matchup was the biggest that the Mountaineers had hosted, and it lived up to the hype on national television. Brown spoke about the Appalachian State fan base and Saturday’s electric environment following the game.
“It’s so different than when I was here,” said Brown, who coached the Mountaineers for one season in the 80s. “They’ve turned this into a place that is very difficult to play.”
- North Carolina overcame 12 penalties for 115 yards in the win
- Mountaineers’ tailback Nate Noel rushed 14 times for 116 yards and two scores, including the game’s first points on a 52-yard scamper
- Both teams were perfect in the red zone (UNC 4-4, App 3-3)
- All six of Brice’s touchdown passes were thrown to different receivers
- UNC linebacker Cedric Gray led the game in tackles with 13 and an interception