History repeats, Tar Heels blank Demon Deacons in fourth quarter

Wake Forest fails to hold a fourth-quarter lead against UNC for the third straight year


Evan Harris

Christian Turner (No. 0 in black) comes up just short of the end zone.

Aine Pierre, Online Managing Editor

The entire stadium waited about 30 seconds for the signal from the referee on the results of a 3rd & 1 play with just over a minute on the game clock. A first down would secure a UNC victory, a stop would set up a crucial fourth down play. Suddenly, the referee motioned, the chains moved and the No. 13 University of North Carolina Tar Heels had completed its third straight fourth-quarter comeback against the Demon Deacons in as many years.

In effect, the 36-34 Tar Heel victory had been sealed five plays earlier, when a pass from redshirt junior quarterback Sam Hartman fell on the grass, giving UNC the ball back on the Wake Forest 13-yard line with 1:14 left in the fourth quarter. With a field goal all but certain, the Wake Forest defense needed a three-and-out to get the ball back to Hartman’s offense with under a minute remaining. It would have been a tall order to win.

“I’m disappointed with the result, but not with the effort,” Dave Clawson said in a postgame press conference. “Our guys played their hearts out. This one hurts. It stings.”

You could also make the argument that the game was lost when Hartman threw a pass right at UNC DB Cam’Ron Kelly on a play that flipped possessions, the field and the momentum. The Wake Forest defense denied the Tar Heels the end zone, but a 33-yard field goal from Noah Barnette, the game’s only field goal, ended up being the decider.

It’s hard to imagine a worse start to the game for the Demon Deacons. The Tar Heels took the ball downfield to score twice with very little resistance, and the UNC defense forced two punts. With just over half of the first quarter gone, the Tar Heels led 14-0.

“We went up against a really good offense, the best offense in the ACC,” DE Kobie Turner said after the game. “But, at the end of the day, it comes down to us not being us [for most of the first half].”

Around the middle of the second quarter, Wake Forest put itself back in the game and ended two successive drives with touchdowns. After a defensive stop with 9:08 left in the second quarter forced the Tar Heels to punt, the offense marched down the field to tie it, capped off by a Donavan Greene touchdown reception.

Our guys played their hearts out. This one hurts. It stings.

— Head Coach Dave Clawson

UNC then scored on its next drive to go up 27-21 (a missed PAT denied the Tar Heels seven points on the touchdown), and Dave Clawson again ran out the half on offense.

“We were inside the 20[yard line], and they still had a timeout,” Clawson said. “So if you get really aggressive and have to punt the ball, they get the ball at midfield. There’s a time and a place to be aggressive in a situation, and the five-or-ten-yard line isn’t it.”

The Demon Deacon attack was efficient for most of the game, led by Hartman, who went 18-31 for 320 yards and four TDs. Hartman is now within seven passing touchdowns of tying the ACC record (Tajh Boyd, 107) with two games left to play. Wake Forest’s ground game, after a dismal 25-yard net performance against NC State, surpassed its mark from last week on the fifth play of its first drive. The rush attack ended up netting 170 yards.

The Wake Forest defense also got their first (and possibly last until 2025) glimpse of true freshman QB and Heisman candidate Drake Maye. UNC’s quarterback went 31-49 for 448 yards and three TDs in the air and added 71 yards and a TD on the ground. Tar Heel RB Elijah Green, by contrast, rushed for 66 yards.

“He’s obviously who people say he is,” Clawson said of Maye. “He’s a great athlete and a great competitor.”

Penalties cost the Demon Deacons dearly throughout the game. With a 21-21 tie on the scoreboard, AJ Williams of the defense was called for targeting, putting a key defenseman out of the game and giving the Tar Heels the ball at midfield. On the previous play, the defense had gotten to Elijah Green in the backfield to set UNC back five yards, but after the targeting call, the Tar Heels marched 51 yards down the field with only three plays.

On the all-important final drive of the game, Sam Hartman found A.T. Perry, who made an unreal catch for a 44-yard gain that would have put the Demon Deacons in a prime position to win the game. However, Je’Vionte Nash was called for holding back at the line, and with the ball on the 15 yard-line, Wake Forest could not convert.

All in all, Wake Forest won the penalty battle (seven for 56 yards to UNC’s eight for 74 yards), but the penalties on Wake Forest were where it mattered, and they lost the proverbial war because of it.

Wake Forest, now 6-4 (2-4 ACC), will face another dual-threat quarterback in Syracuse’s Garett Shrader next week. The Orange are coming off of a 31-3 loss to Florida State, which Wake Forest handled on the road earlier in the season. Football’s Senior Night will kick off at Truist Field at 8 p.m. on ACC Network.

“We’re going to give it everything we’ve got against Syracuse,” WR Taylor Morin said.