After beating Wake Forest 36-34, UNC clinched the Coastal division, earning its first ACC Championship berth since 2015.
The Tar Heels once again found itself in a back and forth battle on Saturday night. They jumped out to an early 14-0 lead over the Demon Deacons but allowed Sam Hartman and Wake Forest's offense to get going and climb back in it before halftime.
Wake Forest took its first lead in the third quarter, but the Tar Heels' defense complimented the offense in an exceptional effort to regain the lead and close out the game.
The win over the 2021 ACC championship runner-ups was the embodiment of UNC changing narratives about itself throughout the season.
For starters, the Tar Heels secured an undefeated road schedule, going 6-0 in away games for the first time in program history. Although none of those wins were pretty (all were within one possession), it's a complete 180 from 2021 when UNC went 0-5 on the road and was totally out of the ACC championship conversation.
The team was often described as "road warriors" as all season long, they've played against the idea that head coach Mack Brown's squads couldn't consistently win outside of Kenan Stadium.
Instead, they've found a way to come out on top even when it comes down to the last possession or the final play.
The victory over Wake Forest also highlighted considerable improvement on the Tar Heels' defense.
Without a doubt, UNC had one of the worst defensive units in the country after its first four games, but it began to tighten up in ACC play. The Tar Heels have given up an average of just under 26 points in six conference show downs, and they have developed a "bend don't break" identity along the way.
Against the Demon Deacons, the UNC defense did a little less bending, especially in the fourth quarter. It didn't allow a single Wake Forest score while making key stops, including Kaimon Rucker's forced fumble on Hartman and Cam'Ron Kelly's late-game interception.
Down key edge rusher Noah Taylor and defensive lineman Desmond Evans, the Tar Heels played with more fight than probably all season, pressuring Hartman into poor decisions and closing out the second-best offense in the ACC.
That's growth. Despite some recurring issues in the secondary, that defensive unit is very different than the one a month ago.
For Brown, this win gets him over the hump in his second stint.
Since 2019, the Tar Heels have had the personnel and the talent to be one of the best, if not the best team in the ACC. They've just fell short in disappointing ways of reaching their full potential, losing the close games or getting upset by bad football teams.
This season, it's been, for the most part, the total opposite. UNC has dug deep to come away with gritty wins, and for the first time in Brown's second tenure, it will compete for an ACC title.
Beating Wake Forest helped UNC stomp those narratives clinging onto the program over the last few years, but it will have to finish strong before facing Clemson in Charlotte.
The Tar Heels still have Georgia Tech and state-rivals N.C. State coming through Chapel Hill to close out the regular season — games that could be close if UNC isn't careful.