Drake Maye throws 2 TDs, No. 21 North Carolina has 9 sacks in 31-17 win over South Carolina

CHARLOTTE — The North Carolina Tar Heels have a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Drake Maye.

Now, they may have a talented defense to match.

“The sky would be the limit,” Maye said about the Tar Heels’ potential.

Maye threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns and North Carolina’s upstart defense had nine sacks as the 21st-ranked Tar Heels defeated border rival South Carolina 31-17 on Saturday night in a neutral-site game. It was the second-most sacks in UNC history since the school began tracking the team stat in 2000.

British Brooks ran for 103 yards and Omarion Hampton added two short TD runs for the Tar Heels.

Maye, who grew up in the Charlotte suburb of Huntersville, led scoring drives on five of North Carolina’s first six possessions, excluding a kneel down at the end of the first half.

The redshirt sophomore made NFL-type throws — back-shoulder fades, deep outs and sidearm tosses under pressure — while repeatedly keeping alive plays with this feet. He wasn’t perfect, with two interceptions in the game’s final 18 minutes as the Tar Heels were trying to put the game away.

But Maye didn’t need to be perfect on this day.

The Tar Heels got an unexpected lift from Gene Chizik’s defense, which struggled most of last season. The Tar Heels had just 17 sacks all of 2022 and surrendered 30.8 points and 436.5 yards per game. That included giving up 40 points in the fourth quarter to Appalachian State.

On Saturday, the Tar Heels limited South Carolina to 11 yards rushing.

“How about that defense?” Maye said. “After the App State game last year the narrative shifted to our defense wasn’t worth a crap. (But) they put a lot of people on notice with this game tonight and I’m happy for them. I knew it was coming because they gave (the offense) problems all fall camp.”

Meanwhile, South Carolina coach Shane Beamer knows the Gamecocks have some work to do on the offensive line.

“The whole offensive line is sliding to someone that is a threat and we’re still getting hit,” Beamer said. “They rushed three — three — on the last drive and we got hit. That is ridiculous.”

North Carolina moved the ball at will in the first half.

Maye hit Kobe Paysour in stride with a 34-yard touchdown strike along the right sideline to give the Tar Heels a 17-14 lead just before at halftime. North Carolina could have scored more had it not been for two drive-killing drops by wide receiver Gavin Blackwell in South Carolina territory, including one on fourth down.

Blackwell was pressed into a bigger role with starting wide receivers Devontez Walker (ineligible) and Nate McCollum (lower body injury) out.

The Gamecocks appeared to gain momentum when they pulled one out of the Sean Payton playbook and recovered an onside kick to start the second half. But UNC smothered the drive before it began, forcing the Gamecocks to turn the ball over on downs.

“They played with a lot of emotion,” UNC coach Mack Brown said about his defense. “They took it as a challenge when it was a sudden change. It was, ‘Gosh, we have to go out there and stop them’ instead of ‘Oh my God why didn’t we get the onside kick.”

The Tar Heels capitalized with Blackwell redeeming himself with a sliding 37-yard catch at the South Carolina 1 to set up Hampton’s second touchdown. Maye then connected on an 18-yard completion with tight end John Copenhaver, who made a one-handed grab in the end zone to put the Tar Heels up 31-14.


North Carolina: It was expected that Maye would play well, but UNC’s defensive pressure turned some heads with Amari Gainer recording two sacks and Cedric Gray and Beau Atkinson combining for three. The Tar Heels made quality stops at key times, particularly in the second half.

South Carolina: The offensive line is going to need some big time help if the Gamecocks are to make some noise in the SEC. They gave up nine sacks to a defense that wasn’t very good season and didn’t give QB Spencer Rattler enough of a chance to make plays. Rattler threw for 353 yards on 30-of-39 passing.


The Gamecocks lost CB Nick Emmanwori (hamstring) and OT Cason Henry (lower body) to injuries in the first first quarter. They did not return.


The Tar Heels should make a slight jump in the polls after a promising win over a South Carolina team that ranked just outside the AP Top 25.


While Walker continues to await word from the NCAA on his eligibility, his teammates are showing they have his back.

The team gave him the game ball and Maye wore Walker’s jersey during his post-game press conference. Singer Eric Church, a North Carolina fan, also wore Walker’s jersey on the sideline.

“I wanted to win the game for Tez,” Maye said. “You’re going to get me teared up. He lives about five or 10 minutes from here. We grew up (together) here in Charlotte. We love Tez. He’s a great dude. ... It’s a shame what they have done with Tez.”

The NCAA has denied the waiver for Walker to play immediately, citing revised rules limiting waivers for two-time transfers. The school has appealed for Walker, an in-state product from Charlotte, and coach Mack Brown criticized the NCAA on Friday.

Walker published a letter he wrote to NCAA on social media pleading for his right to play.

Brown said Walker was so emotionally down Friday night when he found out that he couldn’t play the team didn’t want to leave him by himself.


Maye received a good luck handshake before the game from Washington Commanders quarterback and former Tar Heel Sam Howell. ... ACC Commissioner James Phillips and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey attended the game. ... The Duke’s Mayo Classic organizers honored Jimmy Buffet, who passed away Friday night, with the playing of “Margaritaville” in the second quarter. It quickly turned in a sing-along at Bank of America Stadium.


North Carolina: Hosts Appalachian State on Saturday.

South Carolina: Hosts Furman on Saturday.

(WATCH: UNC’s Brown has issues with NCAA over eligibility of transfer wide receiver)

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