No. 15 UNC tops Wake Forest to secure ACC title-game spot
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Noah Burnette kicked a 33-yard field goal with 2:12 left and No. 15 North Carolina’s defense came up with two key fourth-quarter stops to beat Wake Forest 36-34 and secure spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
The Tar Heels (9-1, 6-0) won the league’s Coastal Division title with the road win in a marquee matchup of star quarterbacks Drake Maye of UNC and Sam Hartman of Wake Forest. And while the offenses had the edge all night, the Tar Heels’ defense pitched in at critical moments to keep them unbeaten in league play.
On the first, Cam’Ron Kelly jumped in front of Hartman’s throw over the middle for an interception to set the Tar Heels up near midfield and set up Burnette’s go-ahead kick.
Then, the Tar Heels pressured Hartman into a fourth-down incompletion over the middle with 64 seconds left — a moment that had the Tar Heels players beginning to skip around on the sideline in anticipation. The Tar Heels managed to kill the rest of the clock, starting a brief celebration of the program’s second trip to the ACC title game and first since 2015 — this one coming under Mack Brown in his second tenure with the school.
Maye threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns, each going to Josh Downs who continued his tear of late. Downs finished with 11 grabs for 154 yards, with all three of his scores coming before halftime.
Sam Hartman threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns for Wake Forest (6-4, 2-4). Donavon Greene had two of those scores, including a 60-yarder late in the third quarter for a 34-33 lead.
UNC: The Tar Heels arrived on the brink of clinching the division title winner’s trip to Charlotte to face No. 12 Clemson for the ACC title on Dec. 3. The offense had been the driving force behind Maye, who entered the weekend leading the Bowl Subdivision ranks with 31 touchdown passes. They had a cushion in the division but took care of any doubt while also improving to 6-0 on the road this season.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons had pushed to the top 10 of the AP Top 25 before road losses at Syracuse and No. 17 North Carolina State. Those losses had featured protection problems for Hartman by surrendering 12 sacks. The Demon Deacons also defied one of the principal laws that had helped them build sustained success by struggling with self-inflicted mistakes, namely 11 turnovers in the two games while committing nine penalties for 74 yards in the N.C. State loss. They avoided most of those issues this time, though Hartman’s pick with 4:20 left proved critical.
UNC: The Tar Heels return home to host Georgia Tech next Saturday.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons host Syracuse in their home finale next Saturday.
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