Late touchdown lifts Duke to 33-30 win over UNC

acarter@newsobserver.comOctober 21, 2012 

— Kenny Anunike emerged amid a throng of celebrating Duke students and players on Saturday night and the sound of a ringing bell announced his presence.

“We're going bowling, baby,” Anunike, the Duke defensive end, said after his team’s dramatic 33-30 victory against North Carolina here on Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Anunike said it again: “We're going bowling, baby.”

It has been a long time since any Duke player could say the same. But the Blue Devils’ victory, which snapped their eight-game losing streak against the Tar Heels, is their sixth of the season and makes them bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.

The victory came in the most dramatic of fashion, with Duke quarterback Sean Renfree completing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder with 13 seconds to play. The touchdown, which came on fourth down, capped a 14-play, 87-yard drive that began after UNC took the lead on a bizarre sequence.

“I can't even describe it," Renfree, posing for pictures, said of his team’s triumph. “It's unbelievable.”

The final moments were that. Losing by three without about five minutes to play, UNC began a drive on its own 9-yard line. After Bryn Renner completed a couple of passes to move the Tar Heels to their own 40, he passed over the middle to Erik Highsmith, who was open behind the Duke defense.

Highsmith sprinted toward the end zone, but Duke’s Jordon Byas forced a fumble on the Devils’ 24-yard line.

The ball bounced around on the turf, and Duke’s Ross Cockrell appeared to fall on it. But Cockrell couldn’t secure the fumble, and UNC running back Giovani Bernard, who had been trailing the play, scooped it up and ran into the end zone for a touchdown.

In the span of a few seconds, Duke went from a play that would have ended its futility against the Tar Heels to one that appeared to extend Duke’s misery in this series. But that was before the Blue Devils’ final drive, and Renfree’s touchdown pass to Crowder.

After Bernard’s touchdown, Duke coach David Cutcliffe approached Renfree on the Blue Devils sideline.

“He told us they screwed up and left too much time on the clock," said Renfree, who completed 23 of his 36 passes for 276 yards. "I cracked a smile. We had three timeouts left. We felt pretty confident.”

The Blue Devils’ late touchdown drive was the second time that UNC (5-3, 2-2) had allowed a game-winning touchdown drive in the final minutes. The Tar Heels also did that in a 28-27 loss last month at Wake Forest, which drove 93 yards in the final minutes to win that game.

For a long while, it appeared there would be little late-game drama. Duke (6-2, 3-1) built a 20-6 halftime lead, and led 23-9 entering the fourth quarter.

UNC began to create momentum on the first play of the fourth quarter, when the Tar Heels stopped Duke near midfield on a 4th-and-2. The Heels converted a fourth down of their own when Renner completed a 34-yard pass to Eric Ebron that gave UNC a first down on the Duke 9-yard line., and Giovani Bernard, who finished with 143 yards rushing, scored UNC’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run that cut the Devils’ lead to 23-16.

Later, Renner completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Sean Tapley that cut Duke’s lead to 26-23, and UNC’s defensive stop on Duke’s next possession set up the late-game dramatics. Duke won the game on its final offensive play, but it also won because of its dominant rushing game.

The Tar Heels entered the game ranked 14th nationally in run defense and they hadn’t allowed more than 183 rushing yards all season, but Duke had 186 – its most of the season – by the end of the third quarter. The Blue Devils finished with 234 rushing yards.

The Blue Devils’ rushing success came as a surprise to UNC coach Larry Fedora, he said.

“Duke outplayed us,” Fedora said. “They outplayed us, they out-executed us in every phase of the game. They won the game, and they were the better team tonight. That’s all there is to it … It looked like to me that they did whatever they wanted offensively, defensively and on special teams.”

Sophomore running back Josh Snead led Duke with 99 yards rushing on 15 carries. Juwan Thompson added 64 yards on 11 carries, and Jela Duncan, a freshman, had 74 yards. All together, it was the most rushing yards that UNC had allowed since Missouri gained 337 in its 41-24 victory in the Independence Bowl last season.

Renfree finished with 276 yards passing for Duke, and receiver Conner Vernon with six receptions for 124 yards.

“It was unbelievable,” Vernon, a senior, said of the victory. “To watch it unfold before my eyes like that, after three years, a game like this against North Carolina, you couldn't write a better script. Someone needs to make this a movie.”

The victory was Duke’s first against UNC at Wallace Wade since 1988, and the wild finish helped inspire a spirited celebration. Students poured onto the field from the bleachers, and they ran to midfield to celebrate with Duke’s players.

The Victory Bell, which for the past eight years had been painted Carolina blue, turned a darker shade in a matter of moments after Duke players retrieved it from the UNC sideline. It rang while Duke players celebrated.

Staff writer Laura Keeley contributed to this report

Carter: 919-829-8944

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