Carolina claimed the Victory Bell for the 18th time in the last 19 contests to finish 8-4 on the season (4-4 ACC), but it wasn't until senior safety Trimane Goddard intercepted a Thaddeus Lewis pass at the four yard-line and returned it to the 18 that the Tar Heel offense was able to take a knee and seal the victory.
"You know, I told him, 'I think if I had had a gun I might have shot you for running at the end of the game,'" said head coach Butch Davis of Goddard's interception to thwart the Blue Devils' attempt to score in the waning seconds of the game. "He is such a smart, heady player, and he has made so many critical, important plays for us this season. You can't underestimate his savvy back there of making all the secondary checks and helping everybody get lined up and talk about things. I think it is extraordinarily appropriate for him to end the game and the regular season, certainly with an interception"
The first half started out as a test of patience and perseverance. After the Tar Heels elected to defer their decision to the second half, the Blue Devils marched quickly down the field 63 yards on the game's opening drive in five plays in just under two minutes. The drive was highlighted by a 39-yard reception by running back Jay Hollingsworth that set up an eight-yard touchdown pass from Thaddeus Lewis to Eron Riley.
"We had a blitz with a blown coverage," said middle linebacker Chase Rice, who was playing the position for the first time all year in the absence of Mark Paschal who suffered a career-ending injury last week against NC State. "You never have a defense where you just leave someone wide open.
"It was a bad job on my part by not getting the defense lined up quicker because they came out at us at a real quick pace. I didn't expect that, personally, because they hadn't really been doing that on tape. When they came out on us and threw that at us--all the quick plays on the line of scrimmage--that kind of caught us off guard, but we got back at it and fixed it the second drive."
The fix was communication on defense without huddling, according to Rice, who finished the day with 10 total tackles (five unassisted), and the result was that the defense yielded only two field goals the remainder of the game.
Carolina tied the game at seven apiece on a 10-play, 73-yard drive on the strength of the running game in which running back Shaun Draughn rushed six times for 57 yards, including a 30-yard run from the 34 and a four-yard touchdown run on consecutive plays to cap the drive. Draughn finished the day with 110 yards (74 in the first quarter) and one touchdown on the ground on 29 carries and 28 yards and one touchdown on four receptions.
The Tar Heel offense failed to capitalize on a punt by the Blue Devils with a turnover on the first play by Draughn and linebacker Vincent Rey returned it 36 yards for a touchdown to put the Tar Heels in a seven-point hole for the second time of the game.
After two fumbles the prior week, there was uncertainty as to whether Draughn would be replaced in the lineup, but neither Draughn himself nor the coaches doubted him for a second.
"I don't know--they believe in me," said Draughn of the coaches' reaction to the fumble. "The coaches believe in me. I believe in myself, most of all. They kept putting the ball in my hand, and I told them, 'I'm playing with emotion.' Gotta come out with a win."
And the decision paid off. Johnny White returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards to the Duke 38 yard line, and Draughn capped a six-play, 38-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown reception to knot the score at 14.
The Tar Heel offensive effort was again blunted on the first play from scrimmage when Duke linebacker Mike Tauiliili (20 tackles) intercepted a pass thrown by quarterback T.J. Yates.
"Stop 'em -- that was our mindset," said Rice of the defense who had to go right back out on the field following turnovers on two of three possessions after forcing Duke to punt. "That was our mindset against NC State last week, and we felt like we kind of lost it. After the fourth or fifth turnover, I felt like we kind of gave in and didn't have the mindset to stop them. Any great defense, when you go out--it doesn't matter the circumstance or situation--you go out and stop them. That's our job"
The defense again held, and the Tar Heel offense ate up 7:09 on the clock on a 15-play, 80-yard drive capped by an acrobatic 25-yard touchdown catch by Hakeem Nicks for his single season record-tying ninth touchdown on the season. His three catches for 38 yards put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, the first Tar Heel in history to do so.
Duke place kicker Joe Surgan kicked a personal best 55-yard field goal as the final seconds ticked off the clock to end the half. The Tar Heels took a 21-17 lead into intermission.
After forcing UNC to punt, the Blue Devils marched 71 yards and kicked a 27-yard field goal to draw within one at 21-20.
Carolina marched right back down the field on the ensuing possession to score a touchdown on a 32-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Richard Quinn, who rumbled into the end zone with a spinning, twisting, dive.
"You know, it was a fake stretch play to the left, a naked right," said Yates (15-19-1) who tied a personal record of three touchdown passes on the day. "Right before we snapped the ball, you've got to take a peek at that backside corner because they were bringing that corner blitz off the hash. I took a quick little peek so when I turned around I knew Rich was going to be there, so I just kind of turned around, kind of expected it, got it to him, and he made an amazing play. Hakeem [Nicks] was blocking great downfield. That was just great receiving and great blocking."
The fourth quarter was controlled by both of the defenses. The two teams traded possession nine times on downs, punts, missed field goals, or turnovers. Duke's final two drives in the closing five minutes both ended in turnovers, the first on a catch and fumble by wide receiver Donovan Varner and the last on Goddard's interception.
On the way to victory, Durham native Greg Little again showed his offensive capabilities with four receptions for 67 yards--one in each quarter and all on third down to extend drives--and two rushes on reverses for 45 yards.
"Greg was--everybody's been saying, 'OK, now who is going to step up and take Brandon Tate's place?' That was a huge hole for our offense to have to fill. When Brandon went down, he was delivering over 200 yards per game in effective offensive yardage, either through receiving running, or kick returning. Greg, tonight, showed all the things that he is capable of doing. He is extraordinarily physically strong. He is very, very difficult to tackle, and he is a guy who needs to touch the football. It's one of the reasons we made him the running back a year ago. He's just a gifted athlete, and we just need to continue to find ways to get him the football"
Linebacker Quan Sturdivant led all Tar Heels with 13 tackles.
The Tar Heels will have a team meeting on Sunday and head into exams the middle of next week before resuming practice again in preparation for a bowl game that has yet to be determined.