CHAPEL HILL– No. 24 Duke pulled out a tight 27-25 win over Carolina to claim the Coastal Division title and earn a trip to the ACC Championship Game to face No. 2 Florida State next Saturday.
The game was tense throughout, but DeVon Edwards picked off Marquise Williams with 13 seconds left in the game to seal the victory for the Blue Devils in Chapel Hill. Duke improved to 10-2 on the year while UNC fell to 6-6.
Third downs told the tale of the game. The Blue Devils converted on eight of their 15 attempts while the Tar Heels were just two for 12.
Anthony Boone opened up in the quarterback position for the Duke offense. The Blue Devils use a dual system at quarterback. The opening drive was uneventful for the Blue Devils as a spirited Tar Heel defense stopped them three and out.
The Tar Heels opened up their drive with a solid completion to Quinshad Davis. T.J. Logan dashed ahead for a good pickup into Duke territory next. But ultimately, Carolina was bottled up and a 42-yard Thomas Moore field goal was missed wide right to the dismay of the crowd.
Duke took the ensuing possession and pushed the ball across midfield with some nifty plays, but the Tar Heel defense stiffened up, and a tackle by Shawn Underwood on third down forced a punt.
Electricity ensued for the Tar Heels. Eric Ebron, playing in his final home game in a Carolina uniform after declaring for the NFL Draft, snagged a 79-yard catch – the longest of his career.
***Listen to the play***
And two plays later, Marquise Williams capped off the scoring drive with a keeper into the end zone.
Carolina posted a 7-0 lead with 8:22 to play in the first quarter to the delight of a packed out Kenan Stadium.
But Duke was ready to respond. They marched the ball right down the field with precision passing and inspired running up the middle. A 74-yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Boone to Jamison Crowder. It was Crowder’s 85th catch of the year and tied a Duke record.
And to make matters worse, UNC’s Travis Hughes was assessed a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty at the end of the scoring play.
At the close of the first quarter, the score was deadlocked at seven. Duke had managed eight first downs to Carolina’s four. Duke’s signal caller Anthony Boone had received all the snaps and went six for eight for 64 yards.
The second quarter started strong for Carolina thanks to a beautiful punt by Tommy Hibbard that pinned Duke inside their own five yard line.
But the poor field position did nothing to deter the Duke offensive attack. Tight end Braxton Deaver was tearing apart the Carolina defense with laser-like passes from Anthony Boone. The whole length of the field was traversed by the Blue Devils.
The 8:20 second drive was stalled inside the five yard line. It was a big goal line stand for the Tar Heels. In fact, it was the first time all season Duke had first and goal to go and didn’t score a touchdown.
The Blue Devils made the field goal, however, and went up 10-7 with 6:31 left in the half.
Disaster struck for the Blue Devils next. Crowder fumbled the punt, and the Tar Heels recovered at the Duke 34-yard line. Could Carolina cash in?
Well, a huge fourth down conversion was completed to Eric Ebron. And a few plays later, a fumble into the end zone was under review by the officials. It appeared on the replay that UNC was either down on the half-yard line or had scored a touchdown before the ball came loose.
The officials ruled Logan was down. It was a first and goal for the Tar Heels. And Marquise Williams ran around the end for an easy touchdown.
UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora elected to go for a two-point conversion on some trickery with a fake field goal. The kicker Hibbard threw a pass to get the two points and place the Tar Heels up 15-10 with 1:30 left in the half.
How did Duke respond? With a 99-yard kickoff return by DeVon Edwards, of course, to take the lead 17-15.
UNC couldn’t answer on the following drive as the Duke defense got some pressure on Williams in the backfield. A Hibbard punt gave the Blue Devils the ball on their own 11 with little time left on the clock.
At the half, it was Duke with a whopping 17 first downs to a mere 7 for UNC. Quarterback Marquise Williams was 8 for 15 for 156 yards. Eric Ebron set the single season record for yardage by an ACC tight end with his 103 first half yards.
Duke’s Kelby Brown picked off Williams on the opening drive of the second half for the Tar Heels. The pass was intended for Ebron.
And after the turnover, Boone hit a wide open receiver to give the Blue Devils a first and goal situation. And Jamison Crowder made an incredible grab in the back of the end zone to give Duke a 124-15 lead with 12:08 on the clock in the third quarter. What an athletic Crowder catch that was.
UNC’s play calling was a bit redundant on their next drive. They threw three straight bombs and failed to convert on fourth down to hand the ball back to Duke. The killer on that drive was a dropped ball by T.J. Logan inside the five-yard line.
The Blue Devils were back at it and could sense another score would do a lot to help their chances of reaching the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte next weekend.
But a nice third down break-up by Tre Boston and a poorly thrown ball by Boone on a fourth down try gave the ball back to Carolina.
Eric Ebron made a nice sideline grab to pick up a first down into Duke territory for Carolina. UNC really needed a score. And they got it. Davis broke free for a score to energize the crowd and get UNC within two points at 24-22 with 5:10 left in third quarter.
On the next chance for Duke, it was the UNC defense that started strong. They forced a third and long play. But the Blue Devils converted on yet another third down. That was becoming a theme of the day. Duke was now 7 for 11 on third downs.
Another third down arose for Duke at the Carolina 44. Darius Lipford stepped up to supply big pressure and force a Duke punt.
Switzer sped around the end for a nine yard pickup for UNC. Logan then took the ball for a 14-yard burst that had Carolina off and running yet again.
But a no call on a possible pass interference on Ebron left Coach Fedora fuming on the sidelines. He spent the entire rest of the series yelling at the referees.
A beautiful punt by Hibbard gave Duke the ball at their own three yard line to start their offensive series.
The Carolina defense came to play in the second half. A massive tackle by Malik Simmons on third down and six forced another Duke punt.
Switzer was taken down at the UNC 32 and the Tar Heels were set to start another important drive. And it began on a rough note. A holding penalty backed Carolina up.
But the offense clicked after that. The 12-play, 4:50 drive resulted in a 37-yard field goal for Thomas Moore. He nailed it down the middle to give the Tar Heels a 25-24 lead with 7:03 to play.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Russell Bodine, however, might have cost UNC a chance at a touchdown.
On the next possession, Tre Boston dropped an errant throw by Boone. It should have been an interception. And Boone capitalized on a nice throw over the middle that set Duke up for a good scoring chance at the UNC 33-yard line.
The Tar Heel defense stiffened yet again to hold Duke to a field goal. With 2:22 remaining in the contest, the Blue Devils were clinging to a 27-25 lead.
Thanks to a block in the back penalty, the Carolina offense would start their final drive of the game inside their own 10-yard line.
A face mask penalty helped Carolina’s cause, moving them out to the 25-yard line. A Switzer first down moved the ball to the 36-yard line with just under a minute to go.
Williams picked up a fourth down with his legs, but he threw an easy interception a couple plays later to hand the game over to Duke with 13 seconds remaining in game.