BOONE — UNC coach Mack Brown told his team after Saturday afternoon’s offensive free-for-all what might not have been so obvious.
“You didn’t cave,” he said.
That was a feat amid an avalanche of points.
What you might need to know: On the day that the Tar Heels surrendered six fourth quarter touchdowns, they won.
Anything else became basically inexplicable in a 63-61 count against Appalachian State at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
“People who love football will talk about what a great game it was,” Brown said.
Even with all the points, UNC linebacker Cedric Gray figured it was defense that saved the day in the highest-scoring game that either team had ever played in.
“We’ve got to make a play at some point,” Gray said. “It’s usually the first team to get the stop that usually wins the game. We made all those mistakes and still came out with a win.”
The teams combined for three touchdowns in the last 31 seconds. The last of those came with App State’s Chase Brice throwing 26 yards to Kaedin Robinson with 9 seconds to play. The Mountaineers still needed a two-point conversion to pull even.
Brice was stopped just shy of the goal line by Noah Taylor and Kaimon Rucker.
The Tar Heels (2-0) recovered another onside kick to help close a 4-hour, 14-minute endurance test.
“I was thinking when they were kicking off with 9 seconds left, that was too much time if we don’t get the onside kick,” Brown said. “That’s the day it was.”
It was a game in which Tar Heels redshirt freshman Drake Maye threw four touchdowns and 352 yards and the UNC defense came up with two defensive stops on two-point conversions in the final minute — though the first of those was courtesy of a Mountaineers blunder in which Brice’s pass sailed over the outstretched hands of Dashaun Davis, who was open as he was backing into the end zone.
That would have given App State a 57-56 edge. Just to add to the nuttiness, Bryson Nesbit returned the ensuing onside kick 43 yards for a touchdown. As Brown and Maye and just about everyone else with an opinion pointed out, he would have been better off taking a knee.
The ensuing kickoff gave the Mountaineers another chance. Brice took advantage with his sixth touchdown pass of the game.
Outside the gates, fans were sprinting uphill to return to the stadium, trying to get back in time for a glimpse of another two-point attempt that essentially decided the outcome.
The Mountaineers went from 14 points up to 20 points behind. They were even again at 49-49 with four minutes remaining.
Five plays later, the Tar Heels responded with a play that normally would have been much talked about. Maye withstood the App State blitz, throwing to unattended D.J. Jones for a 42-yard touchdown with 2:50 to go.
“They forgot about D.J.,” he said. “He looked open, I don’t know. I got power-drove into the ground.”
It will be hard to believe that more than 32 minutes of game time passed without the Mountaineers scoring. That provided an avenue for the Tar Heels to stake a 20-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
UNC’s defense, which was supposed to be fixed upon the return of defensive coordinator Gene Chizek, gave up 664 yards.
Take note …
— The Mountaineers played their opener in front of a record crowd of 40,168 — eclipsing the stadium mark by more than 6,000 from 2017 when Wake Forest visited. This was the Tar Heels’ first trip to Boone.
— Nesbit kept his dramatics to the final minute of each half. His TD catch from 7 yards out with 1 second to play in the half gave the Tar Heels their first lead.
— Maye also had a rushing touchdown. His 12-yard run off a well-executed fake hand-off capped the first possession of the second half to boost UNC’s advantage to 35-21. He slipped inside the pylon, and then was greeted by his predecessor, Sam Howell, at the side of the end zone.
— Perhaps lost in the fourth-quarter mayhem, Maye scored on a two-point conversion to stretch North Carolina’s edge to 49-35 with 9:25 to play.
— Brown’s positive spin: “You score 63 points with a freshman quarterback who never played a road game.”