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UNC Defeats Virginia, Moves Closer to Coastal Title

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — North Carolina moved one step closer to claiming the ACC’s Coastal Division title, and made coach Mack Brown winless no more here on these grounds during the process. Another stronger second half boosted the Tar Heels, who beat Virginia 31-28 on Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium.

Drake Maye threw second-half touchdown passes to Josh Downs and Elijah Green, as UNC (8-1 overall, 5-0 ACC) overcame a deficit in the second half to win for the third straight game. Three games remain in the regular season and UNC, ranked No. 17 by both the College Football Playoff committee and AP poll voters, can clinch the division title with one more victory. That would send the Tar Heels to the ACC championship game.

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong broke off an 8-yard TD run after sitting in the pocket, as the Cavaliers (3-6, 1-5) cut UNC’s lead to 31-28 with 3:24 left.

Maye finished with 293 passing yards and added 74 rushing yards on the ground. He lofted a 19-yard touchdown pass to Downs on a third-and-8, vaulting the Tar Heels ahead to stay at 24-21 late in the third quarter. Downs hauled in 15 catches for 166 yards.

Early in the fourth quarter, Green put a shifty move on a Virginia defender to spin away and scoot in on a 22-yard touchdown pass, and North Carolina led 31-21 with 13:19 to go. Green ran for 91 yards on 22 carries, and also scored a rushing touchdown.

The Tar Heels picked up their first road win at UVa since 2016 and continued their perfect run away from home this season, improving to 5-0 in road games. And the 71-year-old Brown, who said this week that he doesn’t believe in curses, snapped the the hex that had hung over his coaching career. He previously had been 0-6 all-time in games here at Virginia.

UNC defensive back Storm Duck celebrates his interception during Saturday’s game. (Photo: Jim Hawkins / Inside Carolina, 247Sports)

Zigzag to the end zone

Maye’s criss-crossing scramble from one side of the field to the other gave North Carolina a 10-7 lead in the second quarter, and provided another highlight reel moment for the redshirt freshman star quarterback.

It went in the box score as a 5-yard touchdown run, when in actuality Maye might’ve covered some 30 yards to score. He picked up key blocks from the UNC offensive line, after rolling right and then reversing to the left. Left tackle Asim Richards was motioning for Maye to head back the other way when he changed course.

That scamper capped an eventful 13-play, 80-yard drive that included the Tar Heels’ Antoine Green dropping a sure touchdown pass in the end zone — Maye’s throw there was perfectly placed — an illegal blocking penalty against UNC tight end Kamari Morales, and a pass interference penalty against Virginia defensive back Jonas Sanker on a pass intended for Morales.

Opening statements

UNC’s reshuffled defense, with Jahvaree Ritzie starting at power end in place of Des Evans (out for the season due to injury) and Chris Collins starting at the edge-rushing “jack” spot in place of Noah Taylor (out for the season due to injury), didn’t get off to a fast start.

Armstrong’s 4-yard touchdown run on a walk-in supplied Virginia’s first touchdown on the first possession of a game this season. The Cavaliers arrived having failed to crack the end zone last week against Miami through four quarters of regulation and four overtime periods, but needed just 4:12 to deliver the touchdown to open Saturday’s game.

Later, the Tar Heels trailed 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, the first time UNC hasn’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter of a game this season.

Depleted receiving corps for Cavaliers

Virginia seemed doomed before Saturday’s contest kicked off, with each of its three starting receivers not in uniform during pregame warmups and team spokesman Jim Daves confirming Keytaon Thompson, Dontayvion Wicks and Lavel Davis Jr. were out for the Cavaliers.

Those absences left Armstrong missing significant firepower — a combined 99 catches for 1,380 yards and four touchdowns, or 75.6 percent of his 1,826 passing yards on the season. Thompson (53 catches for 579 yards this season) and Wicks (30 catches for 430 yards) are Armstrong’s favorite targets.

Next on the schedule

North Carolina plays on the road at Wake Forest, stepping out of the Coastal Division for its first ACC game against an Atlantic Division opponent this season.

It’s an in-state matchup that could factor in the ACC’s pecking order for bowl assignments at the end of the season. The Demon Deacons are No. 20 in the AP Top 25 poll and No. 21 in the College Football Playoffs rankings.

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