PITTSBURGH (AP) — Drake Maye tucked the ball under his arm, ran to his left, and immediately regretted the decision.
The North Carolina quarterback soon found Pittsburgh defensive end Nate Temple clutching at him, with Panther defensive back A.J. Woods closing in.
No biggie. Maye fended off Temple with his right hand and jumped as Woods zeroed in, lobbing the ball with his left hand to a wide-open Kobe Paysour, the signature play of the 17th-ranked Tar Heels’ season and Maye’s career — so far — in a 41-24 victory over the Panthers on Saturday night.
“Sometimes those things turn into ‘No, no, no, yes!’” the right-handed Maye said with a shrug. “Just figured I wasn’t getting anywhere, had to figure something (out). Threw a duck up there. it wasn’t spinning at all. Kind of like a pancake.”
Kind of like perfect.
“I think I (told him) that may be the coolest play I’ve seen in college football,” said UNC coach Mack Brown, who turned 72 last month. “And I’ve seen a lot of plays.”
Few plays can match the athleticism and football IQ of Maye’s lefty masterpiece. The sophomore remembers making a basketball-style chest pass against Oregon in the Holiday Bowl last year and is adept at using his left hand to dish assists to his older brothers during pickup hoops, but never using his off-hand when it counts.
“It was just kind of an in-the-moment thing,” Maye said.
Maye finished 22 of 30 for 296 yards and added a pair of rushing touchdowns as the Tar Heels improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1997, the final year of Brown’s first stint at UNC before leaving for Texas.
“It’s something to build on,” Maye said.
Omarion Hampton ran for 66 yards and a touchdown for UNC. J.J. Jones caught six passes for 117 yards and Alijah Huzzie returned a punt 52 yards for a score and picked off two passes as the Tar Heels beat Pitt (1-3, 0-1) for the first time since 2018.
Rodney Hammond ran for 83 yards and a touchdown and Kenny Johnson raced 100 yards on a kickoff return for a score for the Panthers, who lost quarterback Phil Jurkovec to an undisclosed injury late in the first half after he took a hit by UNC’s Tayon Holloway, who was ejected for targeting on the play.
Jurkovec, who struggled in losses to Cincinnati and West Virginia, showed renewed confidence while completing 11 of 15 passes for 109 yards before exiting. Backup Christian Vellieux, a transfer from Penn State, hit on 8 of 19 for 88 yards with two interceptions.
“Tough ballgame against a good football team,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Drake Maye is obviously a talented guy.”
Narduzzi and his team got an up-close look at just how talented after the Panthers took a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. UNC reeled off 31 of the next 34 points, with Maye running it in twice from 1 yard out to go with his lefty pass.
Huzzie weaved his way for the Tar Heels’ first punt return for a score since 2018 and later intercepted Veilleux twice to snuff out any chance Pitt had of getting back in the game.
“I’m going to take Huzzie out to diner on the bye week, whatever he wants, on me,” Maye said. “Anytime you see (his) No. 28 and the ball in the air, you know something good is going to happen.”
UNC: The Tar Heels have plenty to work on heading into their bye week. The defense had trouble with Pitt’s hardly potent offense and the special teams allowed a blocked punt and a kickoff return touchdown. Still, they get to work on those things while being undefeated and heading into the teeth of a schedule that doesn’t look as daunting as it did a month ago.
Pitt: It might not matter who the quarterback is if the offensive line can’t make significant improvements. Jurkovec was hit regularly on dropbacks before leaving and Veilleux was under heavy duress.
UNC: Begins a stretch of three straight games at Kenan Memorial Stadium on Oct. 7 when Syracuse visits.
Pitt: At Virginia Tech next Saturday. The Panthers have won each of their last three meetings with the Hokies.