ATLANTA -- Drake Maye passed for two touchdowns, Omarion Hampton ran for a pair of scores and North Carolina escaped another upset bid from a Sun Belt Conference team Saturday, rallying for a 35-28 victory over Georgia State after squandering an 18-point lead.
The Tar Heels (3-0) were coming off a wild 63-61 victory at Appalachian State despite giving up a staggering 40 points in the fourth quarter.
The Atlantic Coast Conference school hit the road again to face Georgia State (0-2), which was hosting a Power 5 team in Atlanta for the first time in the 13-year history of its program.
The Panthers ripped off 25 straight points to grab a 28-21 lead late in the third quarter.
But Hampton broke a 58-yard touchdown run right down the middle of field to tie the game before the end of the third.
He won it on a 2-yard scoring plunge with 10:42 remaining, ensuring the Tar Heels escaped another close call and moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2011.
“I'm happy to have two wins on the road," coach Mack Brown said. "Both of them tough wins, which really helps us grow up.”
Hampton finished with 110 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Darren Grainger threw three touchdown passes for Georgia State, which opened the season with a 35-14 loss at another Power 5 school, South Carolina.
“We can hold our heads up,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “I feel really good about our football team. We had opportunities to beat both of those teams. We weren't outmatched.”
North Carolina appeared headed for a more comfortable win after the previous week's craziness, building a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
Maye threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Kamari Morales and a 28-yarder to Kobe Paysour.
But Grainger led a Georgia State comeback. He threw a 6-yard TD pass to Kris Byrd, a 49-yarder to Robert Lewis, and another to Lewis covering 29 yards to cap a 10-play, 98-yard drive that put the Panthers up 28-21 late in the third quarter — their first lead of the game.
But North Carolina's offense finally got going again, sparked by Hampton's long run.
“I just read the hole," Hampton said. "When it opened up, I knew I had to take it.”
MACK THE GAMBLER
Brown twice went for fourth-and-short on his side of the 50 in the first half.
The Tar Heels only made one of them, but it worked out OK.
On fourth-and-1 at the UNC 45, Hampton gained a yard to keep the drive going. Three plays later, Maye connected with Morales for the touchdown.
Brown's second gamble didn't pay off. Up 21-10 with less than 2 minutes to go in the half, the offense stayed on the field on fourth-and-2 at its own 39.
Maye was sacked, giving Georgia State a shot at a 44-yard field goal just before halftime. The Tar Heels blocked the attempt, preserving their 11-point lead.
“We got seven points out of one, they didn't get any on other one, so what a great call by me,” Brown quipped. "We've got good enough players, we should be able to make fourth-and-2. And we didn't.”
North Carolina: Another sloppy performance that doesn't bide well for the Tar Heels over the long haul. Three turnovers gave the Panthers a chance, and the defense still has plenty of work to do after giving up 419 yards. But Maye, despite his first interception of the season, turned in another stellar performance by completing 19 of 24 for 284 yards. And, in striking contrast to the previous week, the defense held the Panthers scoreless in the final period. “Today, the defense won the game for us,” Brown said.
Georgia State: The Panthers turned in an impressive effort, but their bid to beat a Power 5 team for only the second time in school history came up short. They dropped to 1-14 against the nation's biggest programs.
North Carolina: After an off week, the Tar Heels host No. 8 Notre Dame on Sept. 24 in their final nonconference game before getting to the ACC portion of their schedule
Georgia State: Host Charlotte next Saturday in the second of three straight games at Center Parc Stadium — formerly known as Turner Field.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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