The shootout in Durham turned pop-gun match in the second half.
How frustrating was Carolina’s loss to Duke Saturday at revamped Wallace Wade Stadium? Thanks to millions pumped into David Cutcliffe’s program and his recruitment of better players than they have had in past decades, the Blue Devils have a program worthy of the Blue Blood rivalry in football. Too bad, the Tar Heels lost a fifth game to Duke in the last seven years, largely thanks to ten penalties at the worst possible times.
The thrill-a-minute first half ended when a cheap shot roughing call on UNC tight end Jake Bargas well behind the play nullified a long gain and first down for Carolina. It gave Duke enough time to score again on a basic up-the-middle option run by Daniel Jones, who killed Carolina all day with his arm and legs. That turned out to be the difference after a 7-7 second half.
Having given up huge chunks on the ground in the first half, the Blue Devils stuffed sometimes nine men in the box on defense and dared Nathan Elliott to beat them with the long ball. That’s not Elliott’s game, and the Tar Heels offense turned anemic, failing to get another first down until the 4th quarter, when it was a two-score game after another up-the-gut sprint by Jones.
Duke has what is usually a cool tradition of its entire team going on the field to mosh pit the start of the fourth quarter. This time, it turned borderline ugly with the Blue Devils taunting the Tar Heels, who came out in mass and the officials having to step between to two angry mobs. It looked bush league for a Cutcliffe team, but after all it was Duke versus Carolina.
The Heels blocked a field goal and forced three turnovers in their own fine second half of defense. But their offense could not convert any of them and that was that until freshman Cade Fortin came off the bench for the last snap to wing a Hail Mary into the end zone.
Still recovering from a knee injury, Fortin went in because Elliott couldn’t reach the end zone from that distance, but it will be one of the questions facing Larry Fedora this week. Fortin can play in only one of the last two games to preserve his red-shirt for the season.
My guess is Elliott can beat Western Carolina, so Fortin will sit and then play against State on Thanksgiving Saturday, when Pack fans will try to turn Kenan Stadium red.