“Our team did everything they had to do to win the game.” This is not only a statement from Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, but this is the way the game went. Duke played super aggressively on offense, defense, and special teams as Duke would hold one of the most powerful offenses to just six points in the second half to upset the 17th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels, earning rights to the Victory Bell, a trophy to celebrate the historic rivalry.
The game would start out on a night titled the “Silence of the Rams” and a special light show to begin the frenzy in Wallace Wade. Carolina (7-3, 5-2 ACC) would come out strong however, Mitch Trubisky found Thomas Jackson in the corner of the end zone for a 16 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Carolina early. The Tar Heels would strike again after Trubisky made a quick pass to Bug Howard and Duke defensive back Corbin McCarthy would misplay the pass and completely misses the tackle, allowing Howard to take the pass and score uncontested from 19 yards out to double their lead 14-0. Duke (4-6, 1-5 ACC) began to pull out all of the stops at this point, attempting a few trick plays and deep balls in to double coverage.
Flirting with disaster, redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones would manage to drive the offense down the field and respond with an eventual eight yard touchdown run to bring the deficit to seven points. Duke’s defense would force Carolina to punt the ball. On the ensuing drive, the Blue Devils would work their way down in to the red zone and inside of the five yard line when they get stopped on fourth down. A personal foul on UNC was called on the play and Duke was awarded a first down at the one yard line and converted the touchdown two plays later on a Shaun Wilson power run to tie the game at 14. The Tar Heels did not panic, only a few plays later they faked a quick pass to the dangerous receiver Ryan Switzer and the Duke defense took their focus off of tight end Carl Tucker, who caught the Trubisky pass in stride and took it 54 yards for a 21-14 lead. The touchdown was the tight end’s first touchdown of the season and the first touchdown by any Carolina tight end this year. Daniel Jones would lead the Blue Devils back down the field before walking in to the end zone on a option hand-off to tie the game at 21. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said that Jones is “an outstanding player, a fierce competitor.”
The score would not change heading in to halftime, and it would seem this is where the powerful Tar Heel offense would step up and dominate the game. The game changer was the second half performance on the defensive side of the ball. One the first Carolina drive of the half, Duke defensive back Deondre Singleton deflected a Trubisky pass and made the athletic effort to reel in the interception, his third of the season. Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris mentioned that “[Mitch] Trubisky is on his game this year and the receivers have been also.” Giles-Harris continued “we tried to take away the run game and make him make every throw. We tried to get in his head and rattle him as best as we could.”
Duke would fail to score on the ensuing drive. The Duke defense held UNC to a field goal to give the Tar Heels the 24-21 lead. Senior defensive tackle AJ Wolf mentioned that he was “really proud” of the effort of the defense and that “we did not do great in the first half, giving up two quick touchdowns, but the way we responded was pretty amazing.” Jones would use his running ability and the play-action passing game to move the offense down the field before making a jump pass that tight end Davis Koppenhaver snatched away from two defenders to give Duke the 28-24 lead. Nick Weiler would kick another field goal to make the score 28-27 heading in to the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter would be a scoreless one, which is usually where UNC has been solid coming down down the stretch. The Carolina defense had no answer for the running ability of Daniel Jones. Jones is not a guy who is known for killing teams with his legs, but Duke used his running game and the faking of the running game to keep the chains moving, keep the clock moving, and more importantly keep the lead in the possession of the Blue Devils. A proud but worried coach Cutcliffe mentioned that he was “afraid he is going to be a little sore. He took too many hits tonight that could have resulted in injury. But what a fierce competitor he is. It is hard to tell him to go down because he’s such an effective runner.”
His biggest help came from wide receiver TJ Rahming, who had 87 yards in the second half after only having 13 in the first. Jones finished completing 22 of 34 passing attempts, throwing for 240 yards and a touchdown. Jones also rushed for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground.
Duke defensive back Alonso Saxton II was the recipient of a late Mitch Trubisky pass that gave the Carolina quarterback his second interception of the game. “They are very talented but we were able to make sacks, were able to force two turnovers. Our team did everything they had to do to win the game.”
Carolina’s defense would stop Duke on fourth down to get another opportunity with 48 seconds left, but having twelve men on the field aided the stop and earned the Tar Heels a five yard penalty. The penalty gave Duke a first down and the Blue Devils ran the clock out before running to take the trophy back from their rivals.
The home team would go out on senior night celebrating with the fans and ringing the bell hard enough for adjacent cities to be able to hear. You could see the emotion of the players and could tell that there was a weight lifted from their shoulders after starting 0-5 in the ACC. Wolf stated that “in terms of emotion, after that interception, I slowly walked off the field and started tearing up. This was a dream come true to go out in our home stadium like that.” For the younger guys like Joe Giles-Harris, this is a new experience for them. “For the guys who have been around and have told us what it’s like, being able to go up there and ring it is crazy” chimed in Giles-Harris.
With the win, Virginia Tech moves in to sole possession of first place in the Coastal division of the Atlantic Coast Conference. North Carolina will move to second place in the Coastal and could still make the trip to Orlando to play for a conference championship if VT loses within the next three games (VT would hold the tiebreaker). Duke earns their first conference victory of the season and have won the first of three straight games they need to win in order to be bowl eligible for a fifth straight season. The Blue Devils will be excited to get back to action as they travel to play Pittsburgh next Saturday, November 19th.
Cutcliffe reiterated that”We have to re-evaluate our team almost every week due to injury and find out how we can wind a way to win a game. And that is one week at a time trying to go 1-0.”
Photos courtesy of www.goduke.com