Drake Maye found Antoine Green at the very edge of the end zone with 16 seconds left to give UNC a wild 38-35 win over Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday night.
The two rivals played a game of wild momentum shifts, with both starting quarterbacks making big plays all night long. In the end, a few key defensive plays may have been the difference as Carolina won for the fourth straight time in the rivalry series, keeping the Victory Bell in Chapel Hill.
“What a great game,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “It’s like all of these Duke games. Both teams fighting their guts out. … I want the Duke kids to get credit for how hard they played.”
Maye connected with Green for a 53-yard bomb on the first play of the game to set up a UNC field goal and set the tone for the shootout. It was one of six passes of 20 or more yards by Maye in the game. Duke quarterback Riley Leonard had four. The two quarterbacks each led their respective teams in rushing as well.
Duke responded with three first-half rushing touchdowns, including a 74-yard scoring run by Leonard that was Duke’s longest run by a quarterback in seven years. The Blue Devils took an 11-point lead into the final minute of the half, its first double-digit first-half lead in the series since 2012. With Duke getting the second-half kickoff, the stage was set to take a commanding lead, but Carolina responded.
Maye completed five of seven passes for 61 yards and rushed twice for 14 as the Tar Heels went 76 yards in 1:25 to score just before halftime, as running back Caleb May made an acrobatic catch in the end zone, just barely getting his foot in bounds on the sideline. The catch cut Duke’s halftime margin to 21-17.
The Heels kept rolling in the second half, forcing Duke punts on back-to-back possession and responding with touchdowns to go up by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter.
The Tar Heels were in position to score a third touchdown just before the end of the third quarter, but Duke sacked Maye on third down, and Noah Burnette missed a 52-yard field goal attempt. Leonard capped a 66-yard Duke touchdown drive with a 30-yard pass to Nicky Dalmolin, followed by a 20-yard score to Sahmir Hagans.
After Duke forced a punt, Jordan Waters ran 38 yards for his second touchdown of the game to put Duke back on top. The Blue Devils then strip-sacked Maye and recovered the fumble with just under eight minutes left. Leonard led a methodical drive lasting nearly five and a half minutes and taking Duke to the UNC 11 yard line. Back-to-back penalties led to a long field goal attempt, which kicker Charlie Ham missed, giving Maye a chance, trailing by four with 2:09 left.
He completed four of five passes for 60 yards, with a spike to stop the clock as his only incompletion and rushed twice for 14. His final pass found Green along the end zone sideline. A replay showed he might have touched the out-of-bounds line with his foot before catching the pass, but a lengthy review allowed the play to stand.
“I knew it was a touchdown,” said UNC receiver Josh Downs, who led the way with nine catches for 126 yards. Green had four for 112. “I was just ready to ring that bell.”
Maye finished 28 of 38 for 380 yards and three scores. He added 70 yards on 18 rushes. Leonard was 20 of 31 for 245 and a touchdown. He rushed 14 times for 130 yards and a score.
UNC became bowl eligible at 6-1 on the year, 3-0 in the ACC. Duke fell to 4-3, 1-2 in the league. Duke coach Mike Elko wasn’t concerned with the Blue Devils’ mental state after the tough loss, however.
“They’re going to respond and they’re going to fight,” he said. “That’s what they’ve trained to do.”