Wednesday, December 7, 2022

North Carolina survives Appalachian State upset bid as teams combine for most points in FBS game since 2019

North Carolina and Appalachian State started their 2022 seasons with one of the craziest games we’ll see in Week 1. The two teams traded haymakers in a furious back-and-forth over the game’s final minutes before the Tar Heels escaped Boone with a 63-61 victory. 

The 124 combined points are the most scored in an FBS game since UCLA’s 67-63 win at Washington State in 2019, but what made this game particularly unique was how the points were poured on late. Half (62) of the game’s total points came in the fourth quarter, including three touchdowns in the final 22 seconds of regulation. 

The wild finish was foreshadowed by two big swings earlier in the game, with each team building a comfortable lead at various points. Appalachian State went up 21-7 early in the second quarter, but then touted quarterback Drake Maye led three touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes of the first half to give North Carolina its first lead of the game at 28-21. That offensive success for the Tar Heels continued in the third quarter as the lead stretched to 41-21, setting up a series of dramatic and improbable events that unfolded in the game’s final 15 minutes. 

Appalachian State cut the lead to 41-28 on a long and emphatic touchdown drive, then got the ball right back when Maye fumbled on the first play of the ensuing series. The Mountaineers needed just three plays to turn the short field into another touchdown, cutting the lead to 41-35 with more than 10 minutes left to play. The next 3:13 of game time included yet another touchdown for both teams before the first and only punt of the second half gave the ball back to App State with 4:46 left down 49-42. That’s when a 38-yard touchdown run from Camerun Peoples tied the game at 49 with four minutes remaining. 

North Carolina, as you might expect based on how the game had unfolded to that point, hit yet another splash play with a long touchdown catch-and-run from Maye to D.J. Jones to give the Tar Heels the lead once again at 56-49. 

Then came the most dramatic sequence of the game as Appalachian State scored a touchdown with 31 seconds remaining and elected to go for the 2-point conversion and the lead. However, Chase Brice’s pass sailed high of an open receiver and the failed 2-point try left the Mountaineers down 56-55. 

But the fireworks weren’t over yet. 

Appalachian State’s onside try was returned for a touchdown by North Carolina, which extended the Tar Heels lead to 63-55 but left the door open for Brice to get another crack at a game-tying score. A 47-yard kickoff return by Milan Tucker set Brice up in North Carolina territory. Two long passes later and the Mountaineers were in fact in the end zone for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 63-61 with nine seconds remaining. 

That’s when heartbreak set in for App State fans, who saw this team get off the mat time and time again. Brice was able to get loose from the pocket on a 2-point try, but was stopped short of the goal line. The first 2-point try was a chance to steal the lead and try to walk it off at home, while the second one was necessary to send the game to overtime. For both attempts to fall short in a game that already included a high level of drama and intensity only adds to the disappointment for a Mountaineers team that outscored its opponent 40-22 in the fourth quarter. 

Beyond the craziness of the game’s final quarter, here are three things to know about the win for North Carolina and what’s next for both teams. 

1. Maye builds his profile as a top ACC QB

Maye completed 24 of 36 passes for 352 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, while finishing second on the team in rushing with 76 yards on the ground and another score. In his first two games, the redshirt freshman has 646 yards passing and 9 TDs while completing 72.6% of his passes. The younger brother of former North Carolina basketball player Luke Maye (and son former North Carolina quarterback Deems Maye) is quickly staking his own claim to glory in the hearts and minds of Tar Heel fans, but his performance has exceeded his pedigree. Maye has lived up to the blue-chip projections he had coming out of high school and then some. With star wide receiver Josh Downs missing from Saturday’s win, Maye was challenged to rise to the occasion of leading the offense without its best weapon. That response, especially after facing a 21-7 hole in his first road start, suggests North Carolina is in great hands at quarterback in the post-Sam Howell era. 

2. App State should have no trouble moving on

If the Mountaineers had, say, ULM an easy nonconference game up next, then it would be a valid concern to think this mentally and emotionally exhausting experience would linger and impact their play next week. But the next game for App State is at Texas A&M, which means there’s no time to soak in its sorrows. That tough opponent should allow Shawn Clark’s team to flush this experience and move forward, because the 12th Man and a roster loaded with four- and five-tar talent awaits next week in College Station. 

3. The Tar Heels defense is a liability

The ceiling for North Carolina in 2022 lies with Maye and the offense, and that ceiling is finishing in first place in the ACC Coastal Division with a crack at the ACC Championship Game. However, the floor is determined by the team’s defense, which right now looks like it could be a 6-6 or 7-5 caliber group. This is two straight weeks that an offense from outside the Power Five has moved the ball effectively against a defense that, on paper, has talent but in practice has been worked at the point of attack and beat through the air. It’s a good thing North Carolina can score a lot of points, because it’s looking like it will need to in order to win in 2022. 

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