On a day when Darian Durant would become the Tar Heels’ all-time career total offense record holder, it was the one yard he couldn’t get that would ruin his day.
Durant’s performance was nothing short of inspirational Saturday in the Tar Heels’ 36-28 loss at Clemson. Despite accounting for all four of Carolina’s turnovers, it was perhaps his best game of the season. Durant passed for 208 yards and touchdown and ran for 110, with a 63-yard scoring gallop in the third quarter.
After the Carolina defense held Clemson to a field goal down the stretch and kept the score within a touchdown and a two-point conversion, Durant methodically led the Tar Heels from their own 29-yard line to the Clemson 14 in eight plays. He was 6-for-7 passing on the drive and had rushed for 21 yards before his final and fateful mistake.
“‘D-Block’ is a competitor,” Dexter Reid said. “He’s so relaxed and poised in crucial situations. I wasn’t worried at about [the offense scoring at the end], I was just busy preaching to my guys to hold them to three.”
With an eternal 42 seconds remaining (remember what Arizona State accomplished in the game’s final 36 seconds a week earlier), Durant didn’t have to go for the end zone. But that is his nature. He is quarterback with a running back’s mentality.
From the sidelines, Reid saw it coming.
“From defensive standpoint, you’re thinking second or third man in, get the ball out,” he said.
But was he down before the fumble?
Tailback Chad Scott thought so, though he was not in on the play.
“When the ball was loose and they were scrambling for it, I thought the referee said he was down,” Scott said.
Sometimes to a fault, Durant does not shy away from making the big play. His mistakes were devastating. Two of his three interceptions ended sustained offensive drives, with one coming at the goal line with tight end Bobby Blizzard wide open in the back of the end zone.
“One of the interceptions, he probably should have tucked in under and ran,” UNC coach John Bunting said. “Sometimes what is a strength for you can work against you at times. He is such a competitive playmaking type quarterback. He’s always trying to make a big play, but on some occasions he needs to be more poised.”
But like a beauty queen that can’t cook or clean, you take the bad with the good. And in Durant’s case, the latter far outweighs the former.
As his junior season winds down and he rewrites the UNC record book on virtually a weekly basis, Durant is making the most out of back-to-back losing seasons. And to him, wins are more important than a tanker full of statistical accolades.
It’s a shame Durant cannot fully enjoy his miraculous tenure in Chapel Hill, for he would give up every milestone, to have scored on the Tar Heels’ final drive.
One has to wonder if he and his teammates have become numb to the voodoo of late in which Carolina has suffered heartbreaking defeats. The losses to Syracuse and Arizona State were games UNC had managed to stay in until the final play of each game. But against Clemson the Tar Heels deserved to win, having recovered from a 13-0 deficit to retake the lead before halftime, and then ultimately provide the defensive effort needed to set up the potential for a game-tying drive.
“We’ve been down all year, so it wasn’t a big deal for us,” Durant said. “We knew what we were capable of doing and we closed the lead back. It just shows you what you have to work on. In the aspects of the game that you didn’t do well, you have to work on those. If you can learn from the mistakes, then games won’t come down to these situations.”
So next up is another tough challenge – this time it will come at Maryland. But if nothing else was learned from their most recent loss, the Tar Heels proved they have not given up.
For Durant, his perceived negatives and positives continue to race one another to the finish line which will determine his final place in Tar Heel lore.