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UNC football tops South Carolina to open season. Three takeaways from the Tar Heels’ win

Drake Maye made sure the Battle of the Carolinas went North Carolina’s way on Saturday night.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback, playing in his hometown, fired a pair of touchdown passes as No. 21 North Carolina beat South Carolina 31-17 at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.

Running back British Brooks paced the UNC (1-0) running game with 103 yards on 15 carries.

The UNC defense sacked South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler nine times.

Here are three takeaways for UNC after its win:

Dreamy Drake Maye

That Heisman Trophy campaign received a healthy boost with the UNC redshirt sophomore’s nationally televised performance against South Carolina.

Maye completed 24 of 32 passes for 269 yards with two touchdown passes. That 75% completion rate against an SEC defense will certainly get the nation’s attention. His two interceptions, both coming after the Tar Heels had built a 31-14 lead, were his only blemishes.

Maye helped UNC convert 8 of 13 third downs as the Tar Heels only punted twice (both in the fourth quarter).

UNC receiver depth is just fine

The Tar Heels played South Carolina without the two players expected to be their top receivers. That didn’t bother Maye one bit as he completed passes to nine different players.

Kent State transfer Tez Walker remains ineligible since the NCAA considers him a two-time transfer and hasn’t granted an appeal. Another transfer, Nate McCollum from Georgia Tech, missed the game with an injury.

So Kobe Paysour became Maye’s main target. Targeted on nine of Maye’s passes, the redshirt sophomore caught seven passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.

Winning on third downs

A much-maligned unit last season, the Tar Heels’ defense showed plenty of bite to shut down South Carolina.

After allowing an ACC-worst 436.5 yards per game last season, UNC saw South Carolina gain 364 yards as the Tar Heels posted the season-opening win.

A big improvement came on third downs. The Gamecocks converted 4 of 14 third downs (28.5%). Last season, UNC’s opponents were successful on 41.8% of third downs.

It helped that the Tar Heels racked up nine sacks. That’s six more than they had in any game last season.

Florida State transfer Amari Gainer led UNC with two sacks, while linebacker Ced Gray and defensive lineman Beau Atkinson had 1.5 sacks each.

Linebacker Kaimon Rucker had an impressive night for UNC. He recorded eight tackles, including 4.5 tackles for losses with a sack.

Earlier game updates

After Saturday began with College Gameday’s opening show of the college football season, North Carolina and South Carolina clashed a few blocks away at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.

After losing its final four games of last season, the No. 21 Tar Heels broke that losing streak. South Carolina closed last season in strong fashion, beating Tennessee and Clemson on consecutive weekends before losing 45-38 to Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl to finish 8-5, but struggled against UNC.

Maye’s 2nd INT gives USC life again

Maye attempted a deep ball to the right sideline, and led Kobe Paysour just a bit too much. The receiver got his hands on the ball but couldn’t haul it in. The ball bounced into the air, and into the hands of Kajuan Banks at the SC 45. Gavin Blackwell forced Banks out of bounds with 11:34 to play in the game.

South Carolina FG stops bleeding: UNC 31, South Carolina 17

The Gamecocks were the beneficiaries of a pair of untimely UNC penalties and a long pass completion, and drove inside the UNC 10. But a tough defensive stand held USC to a Mitch Jeter 26-yard field goal.

Maye interception halts UNC drive

Perhaps Drake Maye is human, after all. The UNC QB was chased from the pocket to his right, and instead of eating the ball or throwing it out the sideline, he tried to force the ball into a tight window to a crossing Gavin Blackwell, across his body. That ... did not go as planned. USC came up with the ball in the final three minutes of the third quarter

Maye TD throw: UNC 31, South Carolina 14

Drake Maye fired his second touchdown pass of the game, this one for 37 yards to tight end John Copenhaver, extended UNC’s lead to 31-14 over the Gamecocks with 6:29 to play in the third quarter.

Hampton scores again: UNC 24, South Carolina 14

Omarion Hampton’s second 1-yard touchdown run of the game gave the Tar Heels a 24-14 lead with 11:35 to play in the third quarter.

The score was set up by Drake Maye’s 37-yard pass to Gavin Blackwell to give UNC the ball at the South Carolina 1.

Halftime update: Heels up by 3

UNC sophomore quarterback Drake Maye completed 16 of 20 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown in the first half, leading the Tar Heels to a 17-14 lead.

Maye’s production helped the Tar Heels gain 255 yards of offense over the first two quarters, compared to South Carolina’s 176 yards. Nine different UNC receivers caught passes from Maye, with Kobe Paysour leading the way with four catches for 52 yards and a touchdown.

Spencer Rattler completed 10 of 11 yards for 171 yards for the Gamecocks.

Paysour TD: UNC 17, South Carolina 14

South Carolina’s first lead of the game didn’t last long before Drake Maye completed a 34-yard touchdown pass to Kobe Paysour to give the Tar Heels a 17-14 lead with 2:50 left before halftime.

Maye’s scoring toss to Paysour completed a five-play, 75-yard drive that used just 2:26 of the second-quarter clock.

McDowell TD: South Carolina 14, UNC 10

After Spencer Rattler completed three passes of 20 yards or more on the drive, Juju McDowell’s 1-yard touchdown run gave the Gamecocks their first lead of the night, 14-10, with 5:16 left in the second quarter.

Rattler completed passes of 29 yards to Xavier Legette, 20 yards to Ahmarean Brown and then 22 yards to McDowell to reach the UNC 1.

Heels add FG: UNC 10, South Carolina 7

A transfer from Cincinnati, kicker Ryan Coe hit his first field-goal attempt with UNC to put the Tar Heels up 10-7 with 7:05 left until halftime. Coe booted a 37-yard field goal to break the tie.

UNC had reached the South Carolina 16 before a pair of pre-snap penalties, a false start and a delay of game, derailed the drive and caused the Heels to settle for a field goal.

Photos: UNC defeats South Carolia 31-17

South Carolina responds: Tar Heels 7, Gamecocks 7

Dakereon Joyner’s scored on a 4-yard touchdown run tying the game at 7-all with 6:29 left in the first quarter.

The score culminated an eight-play, 75-yard drive. Quarterback Spencer Rattler completed all four of his passing attempts on the drive, including a 37-yard toss to Xavier Legette that moves South Carolina to the UNC 21.

UNC strikes first: Tar Heels 7, Gamecocks 0

The Tar Heels moved 70 yards for a touchdown on their first offensive possession of the season. Despite South Carolina having 13 players on the field and being called for a penalty, Omarion Hampton scored the touchdown on a 1-yard run with 9:50 remaining in the first quarter as UNC declined the infraction.

UNC moved the ball well on the ground, gaining 36 of the drive’s 70 yards via the rush.

Eric Church, wearing Tez Walker’s jersey, walks out with the captains for the coin toss before UNC’s game against South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023.
Eric Church, wearing Tez Walker’s jersey, walks out with the captains for the coin toss before UNC’s game against South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023.

Pregame update

North Carolina will be without wide receiver Tez Walker against the Gamecocks as the NCAA has yet to rule the transfer from Kent State eligible.

A Charlotte native, Walker began his career at N.C. Central but never played a game for the Eagles because their 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Walker transferred to Kent State and played the last two seasons for the Flashes, making the all-Mid-American Conference team last season.

North Carolina wide receiver Tez Walker (9) walks down the field before UNC’s game against South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023.
North Carolina wide receiver Tez Walker (9) walks down the field before UNC’s game against South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023.

He transferred and enrolled at UNC in January, two days before the NCAA ruled that two-time transfers would have to sit out a season before becoming eligible. Walker and UNC have argued that he should be considered a one-time transfer because the pandemic prevented him from playing any games at NCCU.

UNC’s latest appeal to get Walker eligible was rejected on Thursday. Another appeal is being prepared to be filed next week in hopes Walker can play in the Tar Heels’ home opener against Appalachian State on Sept. 9.

The Tar Heels are also without another transfer wide receiver but for a different reason. Nate McCollum, who played at Georgia Tech last season, will not play against South Carolina due to an injury.

UNC also announced that junior safety DeAndre Boykins, who started all 14 games for the Tar Heels last season, will miss the season due to an injury.