SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The Tar Heels approached the Holiday Bowl determined to change the narrative on their downward spiral season.
After all, North Carolina had lost three-straight contests since it clinched a berth in the ACC Championship Game. Despite operating with a new Offensive Coordinator, Coach Mack Brown had options in this matchup with All-ACC quarterback Drake Maye in the lineup.
Although North Carolina built a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, it couldn’t stop Oregon’s late rally, and lost the game 28-27. Not only did the Tar Heels end their 2022 campaign on a four-game losing streak, but Brown lost his third-straight tilt against the Ducks.
“Very disappointed that we didn’t win, but got to make a play here or there, and they’re a great football team, and nobody gave us a chance in the game, and we had a chance with one second left,” Brown said. “That’s all we could ask for in this situation.”
Oregon (10-3) outgained North Carolina in yardage and generated more first downs. Maye kept his team in it all the way though. The gunslinger completed 18 of his 35 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns. Not to mention all three of his touchdown tosses came in the first half. He was able to spread the wealth to Andre Greene, Bryson Nesbitt and Kobe Paysour.
However, the Ducks’ defense made adjustments and kept the Tar Heels out of the endzone the final two quarters. Maye was also sacked twice. In Brown’s eyes, Maye displayed toughness and grit, which is why he was proud of the sophomore’s performance.
“He is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and we had two of the best quarterbacks in the country tonight, and they showed that,” he said. “They put on a show that everybody thought they would put on it.”
North Carolina (9-5) played solid on defense, but crumbled at times on Oregon’s explosive plays. The Tar Heels’ allowed 414 yards, which was the most by the defense in the past four games. Allowing the Ducks to score two touchdowns in the final seven minutes was a momentum killer for Brown’s boys.
Marcus Allen and Cedric Gray each combined for eight total tackles. Power Echols generated five solo stops and picked off a pass, which was the only turnover of the game. Kaimon Rucker had the Tar Heels’ only sack of the night. Still, the defense fought tooth and nail, never gave up, and that’s all that matters to Brown. There’s no denying the narrative of North Carolina’s collapse down the stretch will be its’ inability to close out games.
“We came down to the last drive in most of our games,” the 71-year old coach said. “Notre Dame beat us, Clemson beat us, we beat Pittsburgh, we beat Virginia Tech, all the others came down to the last drive of the game, every one of them, and that means that’s a team that’s fighting their guts out to try to win.”
Brown is going to use that as fuel for his players next season. The Ducks were the better team, but at the end of the day, the young players got some experience and Maye was able to see what life is going to be like after Josh Downs’ departure. The Tar Heels have no reason to hang their heads. North Carolina won nine of its’ first 10 games and clinched the Coastal, so it’s evident Brown is making strides with the program.
This humbling loss in the Holiday Bowl should build a big chip on all of the players’ shoulders throughout the offseason. And Brown knows there’s nothing like a motivated team that’s been there before, and has the hunger for more. Which is why he loves his players and encouraged by the future of the Tar Heels.
“I wouldn’t trade them for anybody in the country, not anybody in the country.”