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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Duke's Mayo Classic - North Carolina vs South Carolina

by Sharon Thorsland

It’s an in-state showdown for North Carolina this week, as the Tar Heels host App State on Saturday. Kick-off is set for 5:15 at Kenan Stadium. The Heels are coming off a big season-opening win over South Carolina last week, while the Mountaineers walloped Gardner Webb 45-24. These teams have only played three times in the past and the recent matchups have been memorable to say the least. Last season was a barn burner as UNC won it 63-61 at Kidd Brewer Stadium – the teams combined to score 62 points in the fourth quarter! Back in 2019 the Tar Heels were upset 34-31 in Chapel Hill when the Mountaineers blocked a field goal in the closing seconds. Before that it was way back in 1940 when these teams met, a 56-6 UNC win.

The Mountaineers have a young team, as 28 seniors graduated, including two year starting quarterback Chase Brice. Redshirt freshman Ryan Burger was named the starter to start the season but he injured his finger last week and is out for a month. So the Mountaineers turned to JUCO transfer Joey Aguilar, who was outstanding after Burger went out last week, going 11 of 13 for 174 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll face a UNC defense that looked impressive last week with a whopping nine sacks against the Gamecocks. Aguilar has plenty of targets to spread the ball to – receivers Christian Horn, Dashawn Davis, Kaedin Robinson, Dalton Stroman and tight end Eli Wilson all had touchdown catches last week. Stroman is a big play threat who averaged over 19 yards a grab last season and had a 49-yard catch against the Bulldogs.

App’s run game is solid behind an offensive line that features preseason All-Sun Belt center Isaiah Helms. Leading rusher Nate Noel is back and he picked up where he left off last season, with 117 rushing yards and a touchdown against Gardner Webb. Navy transfer Maquel Haywood is a speedster who is also a threat in open space. They’ll face a UNC defense that has struggled for years to stop the run but certainly seems to have turned things around based on last week’s outstanding performance when they held the Gamecocks to negative two rushing yards.

App State’s run defense was solid last season allowing 128 yards per game on the ground, and gave up just 134 yards last week. Star pass rusher Nick Hampton is now in the NFL but middle linebacker Andrew Parker is back, he was second on the team in tackles last season. The secondary is anchored by fifth year safety and leading tackler Nick Ross. After managing just seven interceptions in 2022, the Mountaineers got a pair of them last week, two of three second half turnovers forced against the Bulldogs. They’ll have their hands full with UNC quarterback Drake Maye though, who carved them up for 352 yards and four touchdowns last season.

This has the makings of another great game. Both feature outstanding quarterbacks and solid rushing attacks, and App State is certainly no stranger to pulling off upsets. The Tar Heels need to bring their “A-game” to ensure a victory against this dangerous Mountaineers team. As long as Maye plays like himself and if they can get another solid performance out of the defense – look out. Go Tar Heels!