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by Sharon Thorsland

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 North Carolina at Virginia

North Carolina is 8-1 and ranked 15th in the country. In football, not basketball! The Tar Heels are in the drivers seat in the ACC’s Coastal division after last week’s win over Virginia, and have their sights set on the Championship game in Charlotte. Standing in their way is Wake Forest, who at one point this season seemed like they had a shot to return to the title game. But the Demon Deacons have dropped back to back contests to Louisville and NC State and fallen out of the Top 25. They’re now 6-3 on the season, but are no doubt looking for some redemption when they take on the Tar Heels in Winston Salem on Saturday night, kick-off is set for 7:30 on WBT.

So what’s going on with Wake? The Demon Deacons can’t hold on to the football. They’ve turned it over 11 times in the past two weeks, a recipe for disaster. Quarterback Sam Hartman has had six of those. But the junior has still thrown for over 2400 yards and 24 touchdowns. And he has plenty of weapons to work with, including 6’5 junior receiver A.T. Perry and 6’4 sophomore Jahmal Banks. The two are obviously huge targets and have combined for 13 touchdowns. Donovan Greene and Ke’Shawn Williams are both big-play threats averaging 16 yards a catch, tight end Blake Whiteheart has three scores. Wake also has a pair of excellent running backs in Justice Ellison and Christian Turner, they’ve combined for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Deacs boast the 19th ranked scoring offense in the country, but will face a UNC defense that has gotten better. The Heels have given up a lot of yards but have been stingy when it counts, giving up just 8.4 points in the second half of ACC games this season.

Wake’s defense will no doubt have its hands full with Drake Maye and the Tar Heels. The freshman quarterback is a Heisman favorite and has thrown for nearly 3000 yards and 31 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He also leads the Heels with 513 rushing yards and four more scores. Combined with star receiver Josh Downs, the UNC offense is one of the best in the country and will give Wake’s defense plenty of problems. The Deacs have an outstanding linebacker in senior Ryan Smenda, Jr., he leads the team in tackles. Defensive end Rondell Bothroyd has a team high five sacks and two forced fumbles, Malik Mustapha anchors the secondary.

The past two matchups between these teams have been high scoring affairs. The Tar Heels won both of them, coming from behind three touchdowns down both times to win. But the Heels haven’t won in Winston Salem since 2004, and Wake is actually favored in this one by 3-1/2 points. This will no doubt be another barn burner, and UNC will need to get the defense going to put the clamps on Hartman and company. I say they get it done and make it three in a row over Wake. Go Tar Heels!