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Duke Football Bows To UNC, Coastal Title Shot Over

Thursday night's game was just ugly for Duke.

Duke Blue Devils quarterback Anthony Boone (7) can't reach the ball after North Carolina Tar Heels defensive tackle Nazair Jones (90) causes him to fumble resulting in a North Carolina Tar Heels touchdown at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Duke Blue Devils quarterback Anthony Boone (7) can't reach the ball after North Carolina Tar Heels defensive tackle Nazair Jones (90) causes him to fumble resulting in a North Carolina Tar Heels touchdown at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

After the Virginia Tech loss I used the word "cascade" to describe the errors that led to a Duke loss.

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I guess I’ll have to dig deeper to describe Duke’s 45-20 loss to North Carolina Thursday night. Deluge, perhaps or even tsunami.

Turnovers, untimely penalties, dropped passes, even a 15-yard Will Monday punt. It was that kind of evening.

But in all honesty I’m not sure if even a flawless Duke performance would have resulted in a win, so complete was UNC’s dominance, on the both sides of the ball, in the trenches, on the edges, in the secondary. You name it and Carolina was better.

It actually started quite well for Duke. The Tar Heels went three-and-out on their opening possession, Jamison Crowder returned a punt 30 yards, Anthony Boone hit Max McCaffrey for 16 yards and here Duke was, at the Carolina 21, poised to take the early lead.

Then Thomas Sirk lost a fumble. Carolina converted a third down when Duke jumped offsides. The Tar Heels took the gifts and marched it into the end zone.

It got worse. In a hurry. After the ensuing kickoff, Duke was pinned back to their 11 after a penalty. Boone then fumbled on a scramble and Tim Scott scooped and scored.

Less than halfway through the first period and it was 14-0.

David Cutcliffe used the word "shocked" to describe the blow absorbed by Duke. "Human nature is a tough thing to battle when you get shocked."

Duke did close to 14-7 after Boone hit Crowder for 31 yards and Isaac Blakeney for 10, the latter for the score.

But the respite was brief. The Tar Heels went 79 yards, completing the drive on a fourth-and-one pass from Marquise Williams to Mack Hollins.

It was 21-7 after one period. The Tar Heels added to the lead two minutes into the fourth quarter with a one-yard Williams run.

It could have been worse. Williams lost second-period fumbles at the Duke seven, 31 and 15.

Duke’s misfiring offense couldn’t take advantage of the turnovers and the half ended 28-7.

Still, Duke got the ball first in the second half and Cutcliffe said his team thought it could come back. But Boone threw an interception of the first possession. Soon it was 35-7, then 38-7. A holding penalty nullified a fourth-down Tar Heel incompletion and led to their fifth touchdown.

Like I said, it was that kind of night.

It was too little, too late but Duke eventually generated some offense, mostly in the air. Boone hit Crowder for an 18-yard score late in the third quarter and Sirk polished off an 83-yard with a one-yard run. A two-point conversion after the Sirk score would have made it a two-possession game with 8:21 left. But a well-thrown pass from Boone was dropped in the end zone leaving it 38-20. Carolina recovered Duke’s onside kick and finished the scoring with another Williams run, this one from 16 yards out.

The loss leaves Duke at 8-3 and sends Georgia Tech to Charlotte as the Coastal Division champions.

Running back Shaquille Powell says Duke "just got out competed," a sobering assessment for a game with so much on the line. "We just didn’t play like we wanted to go to the ACC championship. We just didn’t expect them to play that hard. We thought it would be an easier game."

Crowder adds "We just couldn’t get the ball to bounce our way. They came out and played a little bit harder than us. They had more of a chip on their shoulder."

Boone said it came to lack of execution not effort. "Go back to the drawing board and grind. That’s all we know to do here. Keep doing what we’re doing and trust the process and we’ll be fine."

But Duke will go back to the drawing board fresh off a game in which Cutcliffe called "a disaster. . . . They beat us in every aspect of the game. We have to accept that. We don’t like it. You get better and do something about it."


Crowder caught six passes for 73 yards. He now trails former teammate Connor Vernon by 15 catches for the ACC career lead. With the ACC title game off the boards, Crowder has two games to catch or pass Vernon.

One of the few bright spots was sophomore wide receiver Johnell Barnes who rebounded from an early drop and posted career highs in receptions with six and yards with 85. Five of his catches came in the second half.

David Helton had 17 tackles, giving him 119 for the season. Helton has 332 for his career, 11th on Duke’s career list.