WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina has finally figured out how to win on the road. That has the 15th-ranked Tar Heels a win away from clinching a trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

UNC visits Wake Forest on Saturday night in the renewal of a long-running series that has included wild comebacks and video-game scores the past two seasons. This time, the Tar Heels (8-1, 5-0 ACC) arrive with a 5-0 record in road games after going 0-5 last year and can clinch the league’s Coastal Division title.

“These guys have completely changed that narrative,” coach Mack Brown said.

The Tar Heels won at Appalachian State and Georgia State, followed by league wins at MiamiDuke and Virginia.

“I told the guys again this morning: it’s fun to be playing for something really important in November,” Brown said. “Give them credit for that. … I told them, ’You need to enjoy this, you need to enjoy this ride.”

The Demon Deacons (6-3, 2-3) were ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 two weeks ago before losses at Louisville and No. 17 North Carolina State knocked them out of the poll, ending a run of 22 straight weeks.

It isn’t hard to figure out why: the team that has found sustained success through avoiding self-inflicted mistakes like penalties and turnovers has lost 11 turnovers in the past two games.

“When we follow our process and we follow our plan to win, usually we win games,” coach Dave Clawson said. “And the result of that is that we become a nationally ranked team. …. We’ve turned it over 11 times in two weeks. And so we’re not ranked right now because we’re turning the football over.

“If we want to get ranked again, we’d better stop turning the football over.”


This is a marquee matchup of quarterbacks with UNC’s Drake Maye and Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman.

“Probably why (ESPN2) picked this one out,” Clawson said.

Maye is a second-year passer who leads the Bowl Subdivision ranks with 31 touchdown throws. He’s also third by throwing for 329.3 yards per game, and has thrown just three interceptions in 312 attempts — a rate of 1%.

Hartman, a fifth-year veteran, is tied for ninth in FBS with 24 touchdown passes and rankes 13th by averaging 302.9 yards passing. His 96 career TD passes trail only Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (107) on the ACC’s career list.

Hartman has thrown for 827 yards and nine touchdowns with two interceptions in the last two games against UNC to go with three rushing touchdowns.


It’s hard to state just how wild the last two meetings have been, both won by UNC at home by similar scores.

In 2020, the Tar Heels rallied from 21 down (45-24) in the third quarter to win 59-53, with Sam Howell throwing for program records of 550 yards and six touchdowns.

Then last year, the Demon Deacons brought a No. 10 ranking and unbeaten record into Chapel Hill, then built an 18-point third-quarter lead (45-27). The Tar Heels rallied again, this time behind a big rushing game from Ty Chandler on the way to a 58-55 win.

“I still have tremors from the games the last two years,” Clawson said. “We have not, the last two years, finished games against them.”


Wake Forest is 19-3 at home since 2019, with the only losses coming to Louisville in 2019 and twice to Clemson. The latter includes this year’s double-overtime thriller, won by the Tigers 51-45 despite Hartman’s six touchdown passes.


The Tar Heels have ranked among worst defenses in FBS, though they have been better in scoring defense (24.2 points allowed per game) in ACC play. The question is whether that unit can get any pressure on Hartman up front.

That was a key factor in the Demon Deacons’ past two losses, with Louisville tallying eight sacks and N.C. State adding four more. Wake Forest scored 21 points in each game after scoring 31+ in their first seven.

UNC is tied for 106th in FBS with 14 sacks (1.56 per game).


UNC’s 5-0 start in league play is its best since going 8-0 in the regular season in 2015, which marked the only time the Tar Heels have reached the ACC championship game.

No. 15 North Carolina (8-1, 5-0 ACC) at Wake Forest (6-3, 2-3), Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST (ESPN2)


Series record: UNC leads 71-36-2.


The Tar Heels can clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division title and a trip to the league championship game with a win. The Tar Heels are also seeking to go to 6-0 on the road, which would be the first time in program history they’ve won six road games in a season. The Demon Deacons are trying to regroup after two straight losses that dropped them out of the AP Top 25.


Wake Forest offense vs. UNC defense. The Demon Deacons have a star veteran at quarterback in Sam Hartman leading an attack that has ranked among the nation’s best. But that unit has struggled with turnovers in the past two weeks, first with eight in a loss at Louisville and then three more in last week’s loss at No. 17 North Carolina State. That unit could get going again by facing the Tar Heels, who have struggled defensively. That unit ranks 122nd in the Bowl Subdivision in total defense (457.7) and 104th in scoring defense (31.0), though it has been better in scoring defense (24.2) in league play.


Wake Forest: WR A.T. Perry. Perry is one of three top targets for Hartman and is coming off a huge game (12 catches, 159 yards and a TD) at N.C. State.

UNC: QB Drake Maye. The second-year passer leads the FBS ranks with 31 touchdown passes while throwing just three interceptions in 312 attempts.


UNC has won the past two meetings by similar scores with huge comebacks at home. In 2020, the Tar Heels rallied from 21 down (45-24) in the third quarter to win 59-53. Last year, they trailed by 18 (45-27) in the third before winning 58-55. … Hartman is second in ACC history with 96 career touchdown passes, trailing only Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (107). … Wake Forest has surrendered 12 sacks in the Louisville and N.C. State losses. … UNC last won its first five road games in a season in 1997. … The Tar Heels are 5-0 in the league for the first time since going 8-0 to earn its only trip to the ACC title game in 2015. … Wake Forest is 19-3 at home since the start of the 2019 season.