For a number of North Carolina’s football players, the image remains fresh.
After N.C. State topped North Carolina last year at Kenan Stadium, winning 30-27 in double overtime, some of the Wolfpack players celebrated by joyfully parading around the field waving an NCSU flag.
Ben Finley, then the Pack’s quarterback and an unlikely star, tried to plant the flag on the logo at midfield. Others did the same. It was some scene.
Over the top?
“Disrespectful,” UNC wide receiver J.J. Jones said Tuesday.
“Disrespectful,” quarterback Drake Maye said.
“Very disrespectful,” defensive end Kaimon Rucker said.
Get the idea? The UNC players did not like it and hope to do something about it Saturday when the Tar Heels and Wolfpack face off in the rivalry game at Carter-Finley Stadium.
“A little revenge,” linebacker Cedric Gray said. ”After they planted their flag on our field, I’m looking forward to going over there and getting that win and sticking the flag in the field.”
Gray said photos of the flag-waving have been posted on screens in the UNC weight room from time to time since last season.
“Motivation,” the senior said.
Heels aim to return the favor
It’s not as if the Tar Heels will be getting any apologies from the State side this week. And after losses to the Pack the past two seasons, the Heels don’t need photos to be properly motivated against the Wolfpack.
What the Heels would like to do is go into Raleigh and spoil Senior Night for the Wolfpack. Win the game, pick up a ninth victory, do their own celebrating and leave the Pack feeling as miserable as UNC did last year at Kenan.
When the Tar Heels beat Duke, 47-45 in double-overtime on Nov. 11, they again kept the Victory Bell given the winner in that rivalry. There is no trophy for the State-Carolina winner.
“The main thing for me is we have one more point than them on that scoreboard at the end of the game,” Jones said.
That’s what Maye wants. The losing quarterback last year in his first start in the rivalry, he wants to end the regular season with a tasty win over the Wolfpack.
Many believe it could be Maye’s last college game. It’s possible he could sit out UNC’s bowl game, protecting himself against a potential injury before entering the 2024 NFL draft, were he should be high first-round pick.
“I really haven’t given it much thought,” Maye said Tuesday. “I think any time you’re playing State and you’re at North Carolina, this is all you’re focused about. I’m dedicating my all to going out there and beating State.
After UNC’s 31-20 loss at Clemson last week, Maye was finishing up a session with the media when asked if he had heard of the broken leg suffered by Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis earlier in the day.
“Yes, sir, I did,” he said. “Awful.”
But first things first. If it is to be Maye’s last game, he’d like to have good memories of it.
Maye, a redshirt sophomore, ran for a touchdown and passed for another against State last year, hitting Antoine Green with a 4-yard TD pass on the final play of regulation to force overtime.
But Maye also remembers a tipped pass in the fourth quarter. It was picked off by the Pack’s Tanner Ingle, leading to a State touchdown.
By game’s end, Finley had passed for 271 yards and Maye for 233. Finley, who spent most of the season on the scout team, had two TD throws in his first career start.
And then tried to plant the flag.
Finley is gone, transferring to Cal after last season. Maye is going to Raleigh looking to make amends.
Maye’s joke gone bad
Maye realizes he could get a rude welcome at Carter-Finley. Last year, trying to joke around a bit at a press conference and said: “Whether you want to admit it not, growing up in Carolina, you’re going to be a Carolina fan. And, you know, some people may say State. But people who can’t get in Carolina go to State.”
The cut was deep for some Wolfpack fans.
Maye did quickly walk back those comments last year and did again Tuesday in a media availability at the Kenan Center.
“When I grew up and was middle school I had State friends and that’s one thing you say,” Maye said. “I shouldn’t have said it. That wasn’t smart.
“They’ve got the up’s on me. They beat us last year, so I don’t have much room to talk. I obviously regret saying that. Just the Carolina fan in me.”
And the reception Saturday at Carter-Finley?
“It’s going to be rowdy,” Maye said.