Football coaches say fans “remember November” – North Carolina’s Mack Brown one of those fond of using that stock phrase.
UNC fans may not long remember the first game of November 2023. Playing Campbell in their last nonconference game of the season, the Tar Heels punched out a 59-7 victory at Kenan Stadium.
After ACC losses to Virginia and then Georgia Tech, the Heels (7-2, 3-2 ACC) enjoyed that winning feeling again while gearing up for a difficult three-game run to end the regular season: Duke, at Clemson, at N.C. State.
Quarterback Drake Maye, in what figures to be his next-to-last game at Kenan, threw for 244 yards and four touchdowns -- two to Tez Walker -- while completing 16 of 23 passes without an interception. He was relieved by Conner Harrell, who ran 61 yards for TD and had a 41-yard scoring pass in the fourth quarter.
Another headliner was running back Omarion Hampton, who d 144 yards on 15 carries and became a 1,000-yard rusher this season.
The UNC defense, humbled by the Yellow Jackets in the fourth quarter a week ago, gave up some yards to the Camels but also forced three turnovers. UNC also recovered a muffed kickoff by Campbell (4-5).
Three takeaways from Saturday’s game:
Big season for ‘Big O’
UNC’s Hampton is the kind of back who runs hard, never fumbles, is explosive when he spots an opening and a constant threat to go the distance,
While Maye gets most of the attention as the Heels’ resident star, especially from the national media, Hampton is putting together an eye-opening season of his own.
Hampton’s 54-yard scoring run in the second quarter pushed the sophomore from Clayton past the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Later in the quarter, he added a 4-yard score, getting in the middle of a rugby type scrum of bodies, showing off his strength and not stopping until the ref’s arms went up.
Hampton, the ACC’s leading rusher, had 123 of his 144 yards by halftime. The kicker: he had a 75-yard run called back because of a holding penalty.
Hampton became the fastest to 1,000 yards, game wise, by a UNC running back since Gio Bernard did it in eight games in 2012. Nice company.
Camels competed but outmanned
UNC’s Brown said early in the week that Campbell, like many schools in the new normal of college football, has used the transfer portal to improve and bolster its talent base. The Camels also came into Kenan Stadium excited to play, hardly fazed by the school’s first game against an ACC opponent.
The Camels also had an experienced quarterback in Hajj-Malik Williams and used its tempo offense to stay close to the Heels in the opening half. Campbell won the pregame coin toss and wanted to take the ball – a rarity these days – in making a statement.
Following the lead of Virginia and Georgia Tech, the Camels picked up what UNC defense coordinator Gene Chizik calls “leaky” yardage – quick passes or runs for 5-, 6- and 7-yards. UNC’s defense adjusted as the game moved on, cornerback Marcus Allen picking off a Williams pass – the first of the sophomore’s career – in the third quarter and linebacker Cedric Gray soon causing a Williams fumble.
But Williams also had runs of 39 and 33 yards on keepers as the Heels’ D continued to struggle to contain mobile quarterbacks.
Dodging injuries in blowout
The hit was hard enough to cause a gasp or two in Kenan, the Camels’ C.J. Tillman body-slamming Maye to the ground as the quarterback tried to scramble and get off a throw.
The Tar Heels led 35-7, the game decided. But it was the third quarter and Maye looking to stick more points on the board. He had twice connected with Tez Walker for scores and added a third on a throw to tight end John Copenhaver in the third quarter.
After the hit by Tillman, Maye added another scoring pass to J.J. Jones, the first of the season for Jones. That was it, finally, for Maye as Harrell took over and later scored on the 61-yard run and and the 41-yard bomb to Chris Culliver.
One of the biggest fears in a one-sided nonconference game like Saturday’s is having players banged up, and especially the “franchise” quarterback. But Maye, as he has all season, popped up and kept on playing.