It might sound off to say that a defense that allowed an opposing offense to score forty-two points while their quarterback racked up over five hundred yards of total offense stepped up their game in the second half, but that was somehow the case in Durham on Saturday as Carolina dropped their third in a row to rival Duke.

After having thirty-five points and almost four hundred yards of offense hung on them in the first half, Carolina’s defense adjusted to stifle Duke’s apparently high-powered offense, holding them to just seven points and under two hundred yards total.

As I illustrated last week, Carolina once again showed a grit and resilience that belies their abysmal record and long lost season, offering a much closer contest than anyone may have assumed heading into Saturday afternoon and coming within one play of forcing an overtime.

Unfortunately for the Heels, Duke’s defense made halftime adjustments of their own, allowing only a single second-half touchdown after Carolina notched twenty-eight first-half points.

Nonetheless, the game came down to a final possession, a final long toss from Carolina, a final hope to send the game into overtime. Yet the Heels’ hopes of bringing the Victory Bell back to Chapel Hill fell to the turf as Cade Fortin’s last-second hail mary was batted down in the front of the end zone, zeros on the clock. 

It was another dagger in the wilting heart of Carolina fans, for many of whom the season’s end can’t come soon enough.

Despite the last-second losses, heartbreaking finishes, flash-of-brilliance quarterbacking debuts stemmed by costly injuries, and any of this year’s head-slapping missteps, Saturday’s may have been Carolina’s most frustrating loss yet this year. As the Heels’ panoply of offensive weapons—including but not limited to Dazz Newsome, Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Michael Carter, Antonio Williams, and Jordon Brown—continued to display their playmaking talents, fans were no doubt left to wonder why—or more importantly, how—a team with as much firepower as Carolina could have only mustered a single win thus far.

Be it coaching, inconsistent play at quarterback, vanilla offensive scheming, relying on halftime adjustments rather than game planning on defense, or the suspensions that plagued this team until nearly midseason, Carolina’s faults are long and varied.

Luckily, the rest of the season is anything but.

The Score: UNC 35–Duke 42

The Hero: The defense, but only in the second half.

The Goat: The defense, but only in the first half.

The Highlight: Dazz Newsome’s eighty-four-yard touchdown run.

The Stat: Though Carolina scored thirty-five points, Nathan Elliott only threw for one touchdown—and with barely a minute left in the game.

The Record: 1–8