For the first time since Steve Spurrier was roaming the Duke sidelines, the Blue Devils have won three straight football games over the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Duke’s 42-35 win on a chilly Saturday afternoon moves Duke to 7-3 on the season, 3-3 in the ACC, a winning season guaranteed.
Truth be told, it wasn’t an aesthetic masterpiece. We saw 16 penalties, about that many dropped passes, three missed field goals.
None of which mattered to a Duke team that won for the second week in a row, as a hail Mary pass fell incomplete in the end zone, while the clock struck zero.
Duke had the game’s dominant player, quarterback Daniel Jones who had one of the best single-game performances in ACC history. The redshirt junior from Charlotte passed for 361 yards and ran for 186 more, 547 mind-boggling total yards.
It was a school record and only the 12th time an ACC player has surpassed 500 yards of total offense in a single game.
And Duke needed every one of them. The two teams played defense in the first half like a soccer team playing a player down. The Tar Heels got the ball first. It took them less than three minutes to march 75 yards for the score.
This has happened to Duke a lot this season and Jones says there’s no reason for concern.
“Down seven-zero is no reason to panic in the first quarter. We never felt that. We felt like we could go down the field and score and keep executing. I don’t think anyone ever felt the pressure of that.”
Duke answered in 1:49, then Carolina in 2:00, then Duke in 1:50.
“We expected that,” Ben Humphreys said. “On film, that 1-7 record did not correlate with how well their offense is playing. They called some great plays in the first half and caught us on some things.”
That’s 14-14, with 6:20 left in the first period.
Keep in mind that Duke held Miami to 12 points last week.
The first half continued in a similar vein. Duke got a stop and took a 21-14 lead into the second quarter, Carolina tied it at 21, Duke took the lead, another tie at 28, then Duke 35-28 at intermission.
Want a factoid to blow your mind? At no point in the first half did either team ever have the ball and the lead. Every score was answered.
Jones gave Duke some halftime separation, with a 61-yard scamper in the final minutes of the first half.
“I’m know I’m not the fastest guy on the field,” Jones says. “I was just trying to run as fast as I could. I’m not sure I really got touched and that’s a credit to those guys up front. There were seams there I just try to hit them and do what I could.”
Jones’ run was the last of a half of explosives. Jones hit Chris Taylor for a 52-yard score and Daniel Helm for a 26-yard touchdown, set up by a 34-yard pass to Johnathan Lloyd. North Carolina had touchdown runs of 40 yards (Michael Carter) and 84 yards (Dazz Newsome) and another score set up by a 35-yard pass from Nathan Elliott to Anthony Ratliff-Williams.
The two teams combined for 768 total yards in the first half alone.
Despite the halftime lead, the game had all the markings of the Pittsburgh shoot-out loss from two weeks ago. Duke’s chances of denting Carolina’s offense took a big hit when star safety Dylan Singleton went down with a broken leg late in the first quarter.
Singleton had immediate surgery and is lost for the season.
Jordan Hayes replaced Singleton. A starter earlier in his career, Hayes had played sparingly this year.
“The coaches came up to me and said ‘you’re going to have to step in and play a role with Dylan going down.’ I came in and carried all of my brothers, came in and got the win. I just kept preparing, kept working hard and I knew that my time was going to come.”
Linebacker Ben Humphreys said Duke didn’t change anything at halftime. Just make better reads and make tackles.
“Our coaches did a great job of putting us in position to make plays and we started making plays. We started executing.”
Humphreys praised Hayes for being ready when his time came.
“I’m so happy for Jordan. He’s put his head down and worked. He’s prepared every week like he’s the starter and you could see that in the second half. He was ready to rock.”
Cutcliffe gave the game ball to Hayes, who had five tackles, one for a loss, and broke up a pass.
The second half was much different that the first. Duke missed multiple opportunities to put away the visitors. Colin Wareham missed a chip-shot field goal in the first half and had a line drive blocked the second. Taylor had a first half touchdown nullified on an offensive interference call and lost a third-quarter fumble at the Carolina 24, at the end of a reception.
Jones got a second long run late in the third quarter, a career-best 76-yard sprint. Originally ruled a touchdown, the ball was placed at the two upon review.
Quentin Harris scored on the next play and Duke had a two-touchdown lead that they would nurse for much of the fourth quarter.
Both of Jones’ long run came on run-pass options, where he read the defense and adroitly exploited what he saw.
“He’s well-trained, knows our offense,” David Cutcliffe says. “He makes great pre-snap reads.”
The Tar Heels dodged some more bullets in the fourth quarter. An Austin Parker punt hit a Tar Heel blocker in the back, but Ben Wyatt overran the loose ball and UNC recovered.
Later in the period an apparent Josh Blackwell pick-six was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass.
It was the third time a play originally called a Duke touchdown was overturned, one on a penalty, the other two on review.
The Tar Heels took advantage, hitting short routes underneath, Duke trading time for yards. Elliott hit Thomas Jackson from 13 yards out and it was 42-35, with 75 seconds left.
Jake Bobo recovered the on-side kick, running at full speed. But Bobo was playing with a bad ankle and lacked the ability to score on the play.
Duke didn’t do a great job of clock management, Carolina used all three of its timeouts and Jones threw an interception on fourth down, as Duke passed up a chance for a 43-yard field goal, which could have sewn it up but also could have been blocked.
Carolina reached the Duke 39. But Brandon Feamster knocked down Bryson Richardson’s pass and for the third straight week, a possible overtime ended in regulation.
“We have a lot of guys who have grown up in this rivalry,” Jones says. “It’s fun to play in a rivalry game and it’s even more fun to win three in a row.”
“I couldn’t be prouder,” Cutcliffe adds. “Every part of the team enabled us to win. Daniel Jones played as well as a quarterback can play. I love that [victory] bell. I truly do. I walk by it every day and never take it for granted.”
Duke ended with 29 first downs and 629 yards total offense, Carolina with 25 and 536. Carolina forced three turnovers and had three sacks, Duke neither of either, an unusual accomplishment for a winning team.
Deon Jackson rushed for 80 yards, had 14 receiving yards and 31 yards in kickoff returns.
Wareham wasn’t the only Duke kicker to struggle. Parker averaged only 31 yards per four punts.
J. Rahming had nine catches, for 98 yards. Taylor had 95 yards on four catches.
Filling in for injured Joe Giles-Harris, who did not dress out, Brandon Hill led Duke with 10 tackles. Cutcliffe praised Hill for fighting though a shaky start and playing a solid second half.
Ben Frye was injured in practice earlier this week and is having season-ending ACL surgery Monday.
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