KENAN STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL Football games in the state of North Carolina don’t get much bigger than this one except on pretty rare occasions.
The “Battle for the Victory Bell” means something to both UNC and Duke this season, as each team is 5-3 and needs at least two wins in its last four games to qualify for a bowl. Coming into the game Duke is even a longshot to play in a BCS bowl if the Blue Devils can win their final four regular-season games and then the ACC title game. All that is way out of context for Duke, which hasn’t had a football season to brag about since 1994.
UNC has won 18 of the last 19 meetings including five straight.
Scouts from the Champs Sports and Chick-Fil-A Bowls are in the house.
Again Triangle Offense has a record number staff on site, as I’m here along with UNC beat writer Jacob Swiger and young photographer Rob Rowe. Swiger is a UNC student and Rowe is in high school.
I was never the UNC beat writer for The Incredible Shrinking Herald-Sun, but I’ve been to Kenan quite a few times. The first was in 1964 for North Carolina’s official memorial to President Kennedy, and then I saw a few games with the family of origin in the late ’60s when the place seated 25,000 and tickets were $2 on the 10-yard line.
There will be about 60,000 on site today on a cold, sunny afternoon. It’s homecoming day and the Tar Heels are listed as 10-point favorites. And Carolina delivers, getting 164 yards on 37 carries from backup tailback Ryan Houston after Shaun Draughn is injured on his first carry in a grind-it-out 19-6 victory.
The home team has little trouble moving the ball on its first drive, going 51 yards in 10 plays before stalling and settling for a 40-yard Connor Barth field goal at 11:29.
Duke gets a break later in the period when Jordon Byas blocks a Grant Schallock punt and the Blue Devils take over at the Tar Heels’ 31. Six plays later Nick Maggio boots a 23-yard field goal and it’s 3-3 at the 1:10 mark.
UNC keeps the “foot” in football early in the second, driving 62 yards in 13 plays to set up a 29-yard Barth chip shot at the 9:59 mark.
So does Duke, tying the score at the halftime buzzer on Maggio’s 26-yard field goal to complete a 12-play, 44-yard drive.
The teams exchange interceptions late in the third quarter and it’s the Tar Heels who capitalize. First Leon Wright intercepts T.J. Yates to set up Duke at the Carolina 37. But three plays later Charles Brown intercepts Thaddeus Lewis and returns it 54 yards to the Duke 20.
Four plays later Barth nails a 41-yard field goal, his longest of the season, that closes the period with the Tar Heels up 9-6.
Duke gets a 38-yard kickoff return from Johnny Williams followed by a personal foul and sets up shop at the UNC 41, but runs out of downs at the 35.
The Tar Heels score the only touchdown with 6:57 to go as Jheranie Boyd lines up wide on the left side at the 3 and takes a handoff to the right pylon, completing a 12-play, 65-yard drive on which Houston gets most of the yardage. Barth adds the boot and it’s 16-6.
UNC takes a big step toward putting it away when Duke can’t move the ball on its next possession, Da’Norris Searcy returns the punt to the Blue Devils’ 33 and Barth’s 33-yard field goal makes it 19-6 with 3:56 to go.
And with 2:26 left Deunta Williams intercepts Lewis to put it away.
They said it …
UNC coach Butch Davis: “I told the players in the locker room when the game was over with that I thought this was a tremendous test of perseverance, character and courage. The ability to handle the type of things that this team has gone through over the last three weeks kind of speaks volumes. … The one thing this team did tonight is that they fought. They competed, and they played as hard as they could.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe: “I’m really disappointed for our seniors, not having the opportunity to have won this ball game (ever). They’ve worked really hard to reach a position where they had some confidence coming into this game. We didn’t play very well (and) North Carolina played extremely well. We were fortunate to have a chance there in the fourth quarter to win the game, because the bottom line is we got whipped. My hat is off to them for a well-played game.”
Quinn: “Our coverage was really good, because they gave us time to get pressure on the quarterback. So with our pressure things really clicked tonight. Watching Houston run the ball was exciting – it gave us an extra jolt. The offense was doing their thing, and they were giving us time to catch our breath and keep (Duke’s) offense off the field. “
Lewis: “The guys up front (on defense) did a great job for (UNC). They came in with a tenacious attitude and played their best game that I’ve seen since I’ve been watching film on those guys. They kind of came out and outplayed us today. They came out and played their best game.”
What does it all mean?
That UNC is right on the doorstep for a bowl bid. That Duke will not play for the ACC championship, and faces a must-win game seven days from now against visiting Georgia Tech.
Stars of the game
2. UNC defensive end Robert Quinn, with seven tackles including three sacks and a forced fumble.
3. Barth, with a career-high four field goals.
Play of the game
UNC leads 57-35-4 or 56-36-4, depending upon who’s telling the story.
UNC: Won 2.
Duke: Lost 1.
UNC vs. Miami, Nov. 14
Duke vs. Georgia Tech, Nov. 14