UNC Falls Flat in Stunning Loss to Georgia Tech

CHAPEL HILL, NC — Living on the edge yet again, and this time North Carolina teetered over in a stunning failure. The 13th-ranked Tar Heels couldn’t survive Drake Maye in his most mortal form and couldn’t put away wounded Georgia Tech, which rallied for a 21-17 victory, a shocker on Saturday at Kenan Stadium.

UNC squandered a 17-0 lead and was not able 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 an elevated level worthy of his Heisman Trophy candidacy.

It all crashed 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 were riding a six-game winning streak, were soon stuck with their first ACC loss.

Georgia Tech (5-6, 4-4) exhausted the game’s final 4:10 from there, converting three third downs in a row to drain the clock. On defense, Georgia Tech sacked Maye six times, while piling up 12 tackles for losses against UNC.

Maye arrived as the national leader with 34 touchdown passes on the season. He didn’t throw for a score Saturday, and finished 16-of-30 passing for 202 yards. The Yellow Jackets picked off Maye late in the third quarter, one of several scoring opportunities that went awry for UNC, the No. 1 scoring offense in the ACC (40.1 points per game), which struggled to a season-low scoring output.

Hassan Hall’s 6-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter put Georgia Tech ahead to stay at 21-17, the third unanswered score for the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech used third-stringer Zach Gibson and fourth-stringer Taisun Phommachan at quarterback due to injuries.

Georgia Tech leading receiver Nate McCullom (upper-body injury) was out, too. He had produced 100-yard efforts in each of the last two games.

UNC linebacker Power Echols tries to tackle Georgia Tech running back Dontae Smith on Saturday.(Photo: Jim Hawkins / Inside Carolina)

Boom out of the gate

Green’s 80-yard touchdown burst on North Carolina’s first play of Saturday’s game started things with a big bang, and supplied the team’s longest run of the season, surpassing Caleb Hood’s 71-yard run in early September at Appalachian State.

The angle Georgia Tech safety LaMiles Brooks chose couldn’t account for Green’s speed. He raced away, with Brooks and fellow defensive back Clayton Powell-Lee giving chase.

Green added a 1-yard score late in the first half for a 17-0 UNC lead. That marked his eighth touchdown since breaking through in the Oct. 15 escape at duke.

Tar Heels miss first-half shutout

With Kaimon Rucker stuffing Georgia Tech runs on third down, Storm Duck comes up with an interception of Phommachan and DeAndre Boykins making plays, the UNC defense was in position to post its first shutout in the first half of a game this season.

But the Tar Heels left Hassan Hall uncovered out of the backfield, and his 36-yard catch and run moved the Yellow Jackets down to the UNC 5-yard line. Dontae Smith’s short touchdown run got Georgia Tech on the board with 48 seconds left in the first half, cutting the Tar Heels’ lead to 17-7.

Running backs in the mix

George Pettaway’s 11-yard catch out of the backfield in the final minute of the first half was his first reception since UNC’s loss to Notre Dame in late September, and meant that the Tar Heels had given touches to four running backs before Saturday’s game reached halftime .

Green had handled all of the rushing attempts for UNC’s running backs across the previous two games, the wins at Virginia and Wake Forest. But Omarion Hampton ran five times for 35 yards, and DJ Jones added a rush and a reception. Hampton hadn’t had a carry since the Oct. 29 victories against Pittsburgh.

Next on the schedule

North Carolina stays at home to play rival NC State (7-4, 3-4), the final regular season game of the season at Kenan Stadium and a matchup set for a national audience on ABC the day after Thanksgiving. The Tar Heels can climb to 10 wins on the season. The Wolfpack has dropped back-to-back games with Saturday’s 25-10 loss at Louisville.

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