by Mike Potter
Mind-boggling, isn’t it?
But the last time the Blue Devils played a game this important was that Rose Bowl in Durham following the 1941 season.
With a win over traditional multiple arch-rival UNC today No. 24 Duke (9-2, 5-2 ACC) will have its first 10-win season in school history, earning a spot in the ACC Championship game against No. 2 Florida State on Dec. 7 in Charlotte with a shot at the automatic berth in the Orange Bowl.
All of which would make the annual battle for the Victory Bell a big game for the Tar Heels anyway. UNC (6-5, 4-3) earned a bowl berth with its 80-20 rout of Old Dominion last week, and although the tiebreakers allow the Tar Heels no chance to play in Charlotte next weekend they would be able to claim some share of the Coastal Division title for the second straight year with a victory.
The Tar Heels, who had won eight straight in the series until Duke broke the spell with a 33-30 result last year in Durham, are listed as three-point favorites. It’s of course Senior Day for UNC, and star junior tight end Eric Ebron — who has announced he’ll enter the NFL draft — will also be honored.
Regardless of today’s outcome UNC is a heavy favorite to play in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Dec. 28; the bowl’s executive director Will Webb said his group is scouting no other ACC games today.
Duke gets the historic victory, winning 27-25 on a late drive, field goal and interception.
Duke responds with a long drive, tying it with 2:31 left in the quarter on Jamison Crowder’s 17-yard reception from Anthony Boone. Ross Martin’s try punctuates the 13-play, 74-yard march.
Martin gives Duke its first lead with 6:31 left in the half, on a 22-yard field goal to conclude a 17-play, 95-yard march.
UNC goes up again with 1:30 left in the half, as Williams gets in from a yard out to end a nine-play, 34-yard drive. Holder Tommy Hibbard hits Moore on a conversion pass and the Tar Heels lead 15-10.
But Duke retaliates quickly, as DeVon Edwards returns the ensuing kickoff 99 yards down the right sideline and Martin adds the kick.
Duke has a chance to tack on three more at the halftime buzzer, but Martin’s 54-yard field-goal attempt is short.
The Blue Devils stretch the lead to 24-15 with 12:08 left in the third, as Boone connects with Crowder from seven yards out. That ends a seven-play, 50-yard march with Martin tacking on the boot.
But back come the Tar Heels, scoring on Quinshad Davis’ 23-yard reception from Williams. Moore’s kick punctuates the seven-play, 64-yad march at 5:10.
UNC goes up 25-24 with 7:03 to go on a37-yard Moore field goal, ending a 12-play, 48-yard drive.
Duke goes up 27-25 with 2:22 left on Martin’s 27-yard field goal to complete an 11-play, 66-yard drive.
And the Blue Devils seal it in the closing seconds, as Edwards picks off a Williams pass at the Duke 29 and returns it eight yards with 13 seconds left.
Boone completes 23 of 34 passes for 274 yards and two TDs without an interception for Duke, with both the touchdown passes going to favorite target Crowder.
Williams completes 17 of 36 passes for 223 yards and a TD with two interceptions for the Tar Heels, also rushing 16 times for 104 yards and two scores.
Ebron catches five passes for 121 yards, his 55 catches for 895 yards this season being a new ACC single-season record for tight ends.
They said it …
Duke coach David Cutcliffe: “I’m thankful for these young people, so many young men doing exactly what you ask them to do as well as they can. When you get right down to what you want to train young folks to do, it’s that: Be where you’re supposed to be doing what you’re supposed to be doing as well as you can possibly do it. I have never been around a group of young men who have done that better.”
UNC coach Larry Fedora: “I want to congratulate Duke and their staff on a win and a hard-fought game. I’m disappointed for our seniors who played in Kenan and the Tar Pit for the last time. We didn’t get to send them out the right way, but we didn’t play well enough to win a football game.”
Edwards: “(On the kickoff) I just trusted the blockers and tried to use my speed. Everybody was excited, but they know we can make a play at any given time in the game. It was more expected for somebody to step up. I’m just playing football. Every team we’re playing against, we try to play our best.”
Ebron: “We’ve still got one more game to play. This one’s out of the way and there’s nothing we can do. The clock hit :00, our time is up and Duke won. We just have to move on. We still have one more game to play and the seniors still have one more opportunity to go out and do something big.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke is going to play for a conference title, while the Tar Heels will try to salvage something -probably in a home-state bowl game.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Duke: Won 8.
UNC: Lost 1.
UNC leads 58-37-4 (1889 game result disputed).
Duke vs. Florida State in ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, Dec. 7, 8 p.m.
UNC in bowl game (Belk, Dec. 28 at 3:30?)