Win by 'targeted' Duke over UNC would clinch Coastal title

Nov. 29, 2013 @ 11:02 PM

The last time Duke and UNC met on the football field, the game turned into perhaps Duke’s biggest win in two decades.

That Oct. 20, 2012 win at Wallace Wade Stadium remains important for Duke, but what the Blue Devils have done since then show it to be a beginning, not a destination.

When Duke and UNC meet at Kenan Stadium today (noon, ESPN2), the Blue Devils have far more than neighborhood bragging rights on the line.

Duke (9-2, 5-2 in the ACC) will win the ACC Coastal Division outright and claim its first trip to the ACC Championship Game Dec. 7 in Charlotte against undefeated and second-ranked Florida State if it can beat UNC (6-5. 4-3).

“This is a huge game for us because it’s the last win we need to reach our goal,” Duke linebacker Kelby Brown said. “We set that a long time ago. I think people were doubting us for a while that we could make it to the championship. But now we are in position to do that. It doesn’t get much bigger than this — a rivalry game, playing for the (Victory) Bell, playing in the area. It’s a huge game for us.”

Jamison Crowder emerged as the hero last season, catching a 5-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 19 seconds left giving Duke a 33-30 win over UNC.

He has surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the second consecutive season this year, but he still calls that catch the top moment of his career.

In terms of today’s game, though, he’s looking at the bigger picture.

“It’s a big game for Duke football and the program,” Crowder said. “If we win, we go to the ACC championship. It would be a big milestone for us and would definitely help out the program in terms of recruiting.”

UNC retains bruised feelings from last year’s game.

When time expired, the Blue Devils immediately ran to the UNC sidelines to claim the Victory Bell so they could repaint it Duke blue.

The move irritated UNC’s players and they remain rankled today.

“I’m sure it was disappointing to them to (see) that,” Duke senior Ross Cockrell said.

Some of UNC’s players also admitted they overlooked their rival last season.

“I don’t expect them to make the same mistake,” Cockrell said. “We are going to look to get their best shot. The target is on our back now.”

This type of game offers a different pressure situation for the Blue Devils. UNC actually shared the Coastal Division last season but was banned from participating in the ACC championship game or a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions.

This being Duke’s first winning season since 1994 and a season in whcih the Blue Devils have matched the school record for wins in a season, they aren’t accustomed to playing with championships on the line.

But Duke football coach David Cutcliffe has implored his team to embrace it.

“I think it’s great for our guys is the way I have viewed it,” Cutcliffe said. “To face these kind of challenges and that kind of pressure in your young life, I think, and I’ve told them, you have to embrace it. Sure, there’s a lot of pressure. Sure, it makes you anxious. It does all of those things. But you’ve got to learn to embrace that all your life and look forward to those types of challenges, and this is certainly a huge one. But I think it’s good from freshman to senior that they’re having to deal with that. It’s a growth opportunity.”

Duke senior defensive end Justin Foxx, a team captain, wants he and his teammates to focus on making the plays they’ve made all season.

“We are trying to play our football and do what we do,” Duke defensive end Justin Foxx said. “They are our opponent this week. We just have to do what we do, stay focused and play well.”