Tudor: There have been few key moments in Duke-UNC football

ctudor@newsobserver.comOctober 18, 2012 


Duke's Patrick Bailey (84) returns an intercepted pass from UNC quarterback Joe Dailey for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of play on Saturday November 25, 2006 in Wallace Wade Stadium. UNC blocked the extra point attempt and held on for a 45-44 victory.


For a football series that dates back to the Grover Cleveland administration, Duke and North Carolina have played very few nationally significant games.

Unlike the internationally celebrated basketball rivalry, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils football teams rarely have been up at the same time.

Although Duke dropped football completely from 1895 until 1919 and came fairly close to ending sports scholarships and leaving the ACC in the late 1960s, the Blue Devils were among the nation’s best teams in the 1930s.

Carolina was a national power at times in the ’30s, ’40s and ’90s, but there haven’t been many meetings when both were ranked or when conference championships were on the line.

One exception was in 1935, when UNC’s 25-0 loss at Duke kept the Tar Heels (8-1) out of the Rose Bowl against Stanford.

In the 1938 season, when Duke did reach the Rose game with an undefeated, unscored upon team, Carolina finished 6-2-1 and gave the Blue Devils a lot of trouble before Duke escaped with a 14-0 win.

In the game at Pasadena, Duke lost to Southern Cal, 7-3.

After World War II, UNC was among the best teams in the nation with Charlie Justice and won four straight in the series. Only the 1949 game – UNC’s 21-20 win – was important nationally.

The ’49 Tar Heels went 7-4 and lost the final game of the Justice Era to Rice in the Cotton Bowl. The regular-season losses were to Notre Dame, Tennessee and LSU.

It’s worth pointing out that until the mid 1950s, UNC’s final and most emphasized game was often against Virginia while Duke often ended it schedule against N.C. State. The teams have faced each other in their final regular season games in most years since 1960, including the past two seasons.

Here are recaps of five memorable meetings since the formation of the ACC in 1953:

Nov. 26, 1959, Durham

UNC 50, Duke 0

Although neither team finished with a winning record – Tar Heels were 5-5 ( 5-2 ACC), and Duke went 4-6, (2-3) – the nationally televised Thanksgiving Day outcome was stunning and did much to stoke the emerging rivalry.

Duke was a slight favorite against UNC coach Jim Hickey’s first team. Hickey, a career assistant, was rushed into the head coaching job when the popular “Sunny Jim” Tatum died in late July of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

In most of the preseason polls, UNC was rated among the top dozen teams nationally. The Heels were had a lot of talent – including now famous Raleigh lawyer Wade Smith – but were overwhelmed by a non-league schedule that featured Notre Dame, Tennessee and Miami.

But after beating Virginia 41-0 the week before, Hickey’s team went to Duke determined to post a second convincing win.

The Heels completely dominated. Hickey showed little mercy and inflamed Duke coach Bill Murray by scoring a late game touchdown for the 50-0 finish.

Some 30 years later, the score played a role in another rout.

Nov. 22, 1969, Chapel Hill

Duke 17, UNC 13

The game turned on one of the strangest plays of the season, instantly dubbed “the shoelace play.”

With the scored tied at the end of the third quarter, Duke quarterback Leo Hart knelt near the football on the right hash mark and seemed to be tying a shoelace near the 50-yard-line. With the Blue Devils huddled several feet away, Duke end Marcel Courtillet walked over to apparently check on Hart’s status.

Instead of meeting with Hart, Courtillet reached down, picked up the ball and hiked it to flanker Wes Chesson, who ran behind a wall of Duke blockers untouched for a touchdown. Many of the Tar Heel defenders simply stood and watched.

The Devils ended the season 3-6-1 (3-3-1 ACC) and UNC wound up 5-5 (3-3) even though the Heels had the league’s best defense. South Carolina (7-4, 6-0) won the title but lost to West Virginia in the Peach Bowl.

Nov. 20, 1976, Chapel Hill

UNC 39-38

Although the Tar Heels had won 59-34 six years earlier in Chapel Hill, the ’76 thriller generally is recognized as the forerunner of many series shootouts.

Bill Dooley’s 10th Tar Heel team would finish 9-3-1 overall (4-1 ACC) but was overshadowed most of the season by powerful Maryland (11-1, 5-0).

But entering the regular-season finale against the Blue Devils (5-5-1, 3-3-1), UNC still had a chance to tie the Terps for the conference title.

The Terps clinched the championship with a 28-0 win at Virginia, but the Heels were fortunate to escape with a win and a bid to the Peach Bowl after Duke quarterback Mike Dunn scored 26 points.

Carolina countered with tailback Mike Voight’s 261 yards. Voight’s catch on a two-point conversion pass from Matt Kupec finally settled the seesaw game with less than a minute remaining.

Nov. 18, 1989, Chapel Hill

Duke 41, UNC 0

A few years later, Mack Brown called it his darkest but most pivotal game as Carolina coach.

Steve Spurrier and the Blue Devils posed for a team photo with the Kenan Stadium scoreboard in the background after Clarkston Hines snagged three touchdown passes to punctuate the team’s co-ACC championship with Virginia and an 8-3 record.

But the series fortunes turned quickly. Spurrier immediately left Duke for Florida while Brown’s team would go 6-4-1 in 1990, 7-4 in ’91 and 9-3 in ’92.

In his post-game press conference, Spurrier was asked about running up the score on a 1-10 helpless opponent.

“What was that score in 1959? 50-0? Maybe Duke just got a little bit even today,” he said.

Nov. 25, 2006, Durham

UNC 45, Duke 44

UNC’s Kentawn Balmer blocked an extra point kick that could have forced overtime at the end of a wacky game in Wade Stadium.

In John Bunting’s final appearance as Tar Heel coach, UNC led 24-23 at halftime. At the outset of the fourth quarter, it was 31-31.

With UNC quarterback Joe Dailey passing for 253 yards and Duke’s Thad Lewis throwing for 285, there wasn’t a lot of defense until Balmer’s play.

Duke scored with 2:49 left when lineman Patrick Bailey intercepted a Bailey pass and ran 21 yards for a touchdown. But on the PAT try by Randy DeSmyter, Balmer rushed seemingly untouched through the middle and blocked the kick cleanly.

Duke coach Ted Roof was visibly shaken. The loss left his team 0-12. Bunting’s final team finished 3-9.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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