Errors, forced and unforced, cost Tar Heels dearly against Duke
Defensive backs Tré Boston and Brian Walker dropped likely interceptions on back-to-back plays while running back T.J. Logan dropped a 37-yard pass that would have been a touchdown. Russell Bodine pushed a player after the whistle and Travis Hughes pushed a player into the goalpost to record unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Against previous Duke teams, North Carolina may have been able to overcome those mistakes, and others. But those missed opportunities and breakdowns in discipline were too costly Saturday at Kenan Stadium, as the Blue Devils won the Coastal Division and retained the Victory Bell with a 27-25 win.
“You know they’re going to be sound and when you have nine penalties and you miss a field goal and you drop a touchdown pass and you drop two interceptions, they’re going to win a football game,” Fedora said. “And that’s what happened today.”
Fittingly, UNC’s final drive ended in an interception, when quarterback Marquise Williams’ was pressured by Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and floated a ball that was intercepted by DeVon Edwards at the 29 with 13 seconds left.
But there were plenty of breakdowns before that. Down 24-22, UNC (6-6, 4-4 ACC) would have had third-and-2 from the Duke 9 but center Russell Bodine shoved linebacker David Helton in clear view of the officials, pushing the Tar Heels back 15 yards. Instead of a possible touchdown, UNC settled for a 37-yard field goal.
“(Bodine) didn’t hear a whistle, so he was trying to be physical and be nasty,” left tackle James Hurst said. “They thought the play was over so they threw the flag. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Then, as Duke (10-2, 6-2) drove for the winning points, Boston seemed to have an interception but lost the ball as he went to the ground.
Logan’s dropped touchdown pass came during a stretch of nine straight incompletions for Marquise Williams, which included a pass behind tight end Eric Ebron that was intercepted by Kelby Brown.
“It’s just tough because last week we were on point, but we couldn’t find a way to keep clicking today,” Williams said. “Duke’s a good football team but we were killing ourselves today.”
The Tar Heels were coming off a school-record 80 points against Old Dominion.
UNC also left points on the field in the first quarter when Moore’s 42-yard field goal attempt went wide right, and in the second quarter the Tar Heels allowed Edwards to score on a 99-yard kickoff return, the first kick return touchdown UNC had allowed all season.
“It hurts to see us pretty much stick a thorn in our own sides,” Boston said. “That’s how you win ball games — by not committing stupid penalties but by playing good ball. I just don’t believe we played to our best ability today — not like we played the five other weeks. But it happens.”
As a result, UNC saw its five-game winning streak come to an end and also lost out on a chance to tie for the Coastal Division title for the second straight season.
The Tar Heels will now wait until next Sunday to find out which bowl game they will play in. They have plenty of positives to look at this week — Williams ran for a career-high 104 yards, Ebron had 121 receiving yards in his final home game before turning pro, Boston had 15 tackles, and punter Tommy Hibbard pinned Duke inside the five twice and threw a 2-point conversion pass to Moore.
But on Saturday the mistakes outnumbered the highlights, and after going 22-1 against Duke from 1990-2011, UNC has now lost two in a row in the series.
“It leaves a bad taste in guy’s mouths right now, especially for the seniors,” Fedora said. “But this is a resilient football team. We’ll rebound and we’ll prepare for wherever we’re going to play in a bowl game, and I think we’ll play much better.”