A DEVIL OF A DAY
The Victory Bell clanged as Duke’s players paraded it around the Kenan Stadium field.
Its noise rattled through the visitor’s locker room as the Blue Devils celebrated and, as the equipment staff carted it toward a truck for the trip back to Durham, its distinctive sound set off whoops and hollers from Duke’s fans.
On this Saturday, the bell tolled not just for a rivalry game winner, but for an ACC division champion with even bigger accomplishments in mind.
The No. 24 Blue Devils completed an historic regular season, edging North Carolina 27-25 to set a school record for football wins in a season as well as claiming the outright ACC Coastal Division title.
“Could you ask for a better story in college football?” Duke tight end Braxton Deaver said. “Could you ask for anything better than for the lowly ranks of Duke football to climb to become the ACC Coastal champions? It’s a dream story.”
The dream is not done for Duke (10-2, 6-2 ACC). The Blue Devils’ eight-game winning streak earns them their first-ever appearance in the ACC championship game. Duke faces Atlantic Division champion Florida State (12-0, 8-0) on Saturday (8 p.m., WTVD) at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.
It took a thrilling win over UNC (6-6, 4-4) to give Duke 10 wins in a football season for the first time in the 101 years it has played the sport.
“It’s great to be a part of,” Duke quarterback Anthony Boone said. “I love this team. We are very selfless guys. We go out there and complete for 60 minutes. That’s all I can really ask for.”
In a back-and-forth game that saw the lead change hands six times, UNC took a 25-24 lead on Thomas Moore’s 37-yard field goal with 7:03 to play.
As it has often done this season, the Blue Devils made the plays late that made the difference.
Boone’s 29-yard pass to running back Jela Duncan moved Duke into UNC territory on the Blue Devils’ ensuing drive. When Duke couldn’t find the end zone, Ross Martin’s 27-yard field goal with 2:22 left gave the Blue Devils a 27-25 lead.
UNC had a final chance and quarterback Marquise Williams completed three passes and rushed for gains of five and 10 yards to move the Tar Heels to Duke’s 49 with 25 seconds to play.
On his second-down pass from the 49, Williams was bothered by a heavy rush from Duke defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, who hit Williams as he threw. The ball fluttered though the air and was intercepted by Duke defensive back DeVon Edwards.
Having returned a kickoff for a touchdown earlier in the game, Edwards’ defensive play allowed Duke to kill the final 13 seconds off the clock before the Victory Bell trophy reappeared on the field during the post-game celebration.
“We’ve battled all year and that’s just the climax, the pinnacle of what we’ve been fighting for all year,” said Deaver, who said he was still “literally shaking” 30 minutes after the final play. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Six years ago next month, Duke coach David Cutcliffe took over a program that had won only 10 games in the previous eight seasons. Having won that many this season, Cutcliffe was only glad to receive a Gatorade bath and get carried off the field on his players’ arms after the game.
“It was pretty special,” Cutcliffe said of his first ride upon his players’ shoulders in his coaching career. “It was a great moment. I don’t mind these Gatorade baths.”
Duke won behind an offensive line that, for the most part, pushed UNC’s defenders around. The Blue Devils amassed 461 yards total offense, including 187 rushing yards. Duke gained first downs on 8 of 15 third-down plays.
“We weren’t making plays on defense,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “If they’re converting third downs we didn’t get to the quarterback and they did a great job in their protection and the receivers were getting open. That was a problem throughout the day, especially in the first half.”
Boone completed 23 of 34 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns while managing to not get sacked. Deaver led the Blue Devils in receptions with seven for 65 yards. Wide receiver Jamison Crowder caught both of Boone’s touchdown throws.
“There are a lot of people that still doubt us,” Crowder said. “Our job is to go out there and just keep winning ball games and prepare each week.”
Duke athletics director Kevin White has overseen the revival of football at Duke with Cutcliffe running the show. Cutcliffe was hired by Duke a few months before White came to Duke from Notre Dame.
Now, from the depths of all those losses, White, Cutcliffe and the players were awarded the ACC Coastal Division championship trophy by ACC associate commissioner Michael Strickland.
Next up, the Blue Devils have a chance at their first outright ACC championship since 1962.
“We have, I think, the very best coach in the country in David Cutcliffe,” White said. “I think he’s proven it. He’s a seasoned guy. A lot of guys, if they didn’t have some of the experiences he had before he came to Duke, wouldn’t have had the ability to do it.”
|No. 24 DUKE 27, NORTH CAROLINA 25|
UNC—Williams 1 run (T.Moore kick), 8:22.
Duke—Crowder 17 pass from Boone (Martin kick), 2:31.
Duke—FG Martin 22, 6:31.
UNC—Williams 1 run (T.Moore pass from Hibbard), 1:30.
Duke—D.Edwards 99 kickoff return (Martin kick), 1:19.
Duke—Crowder 7 pass from Boone (Martin kick), 12:08.
UNC—Q.Davis 23 pass from Williams (T.Moore kick), 5:10.
UNC—FG T.Moore 37, 7:03.
Duke—FG Martin 27, 2:22.
|Time of Possession||35:23||24:37|
RUSHING—Duke, Powell 9-57, Snead 10-48, Thompson 6-34, Duncan 9-25,
Boone 6-13, Crowder 1-6, Connette 4-5, Team 1-(minus 1). North Carolina,
Williams 16-104, Logan 16-92, Switzer 3-15, Francis 3-8, Blue 1-6.
PASSING—Duke, Boone 23-34-0-274, Connette 0-1-0-0, Team 0-1-0-0.
North Carolina, Williams 17-36-2-223.
RECEIVING—Duke, Deaver 7-65, Braxton 5-70, Crowder 5-54,
Blakeney 1-32, Duncan 1-29, Barnes 1-15, Connette 1-5, McCaffrey 1-3,
Thompson 1-1. North Carolina, Ebron 5-121, Switzer 5-54, Francis 3-9,
Q.Davis 2-32, Thorpe 1-5, Logan 1-2.