CHAPEL HILL — Fractions of a second were likely the difference between what Marquise Williams hoped his final pass on Saturday would be, and what it turned out to be.
Williams, the North Carolina quarterback, was trying to complete a pass to Quinshad Davis, the sophomore receiver, on the Tar Heels’ final drive. But Williams was hit as he threw and the pass wobbled. DeVon Edwards, a freshman safety, intercepted it with about 15 seconds remaining – preserving Duke’s 27-25 victory in the process.
“(Duke) got a little pressure, and (I) got hit, and the ball came out,” said Williams, who completed 17 of his 36 attempts for 223 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. “I tried to make the play but I got hit as I was throwing the ball. So that ain’t going to turn out too pretty. A lot of people didn’t see that I got hit.
“Give them credit. They did what they had to do.”
Williams ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns, but he couldn’t escape pressure when he needed to the most. Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, a junior defensive end, pressured Williams and provided the contact that altered the trajectory of his final pass.
Had Williams completed the pass, UNC would have been inside Duke’s 30-yard line with about 15 seconds to play. The Tar Heels began their final drive with 2 minutes, 11 seconds remaining. They had two timeouts left and didn’t appear concerned with the clock.
“We had two minutes and two timeouts, we weren’t worried about the clock,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “That wasn’t going to be an issue for us – it was going to be make sure we picked up first downs.”
Third down woes
When the Tar Heels wanted to get off the field on third down on Saturday, they couldn’t. When they wanted to stay on the field on third down, they couldn’t do that, either.
Third down woes plagued UNC throughout Saturday, on both sides. Defensively, the Tar Heels stopped Duke on just seven of its 15 third down plays. On offense, meanwhile, UNC converted just two of its 12 third downs.
“I think it was a little bit of everything,” James Hurst, UNC’s senior left tackle, said of his team’s third-down woes. “I don’t think we at times protected the passer well enough. Other times, we might not have thrown a good ball. Other times, receivers weren’t open. So I think it was really a team effort on that.”
UNC went for it on fourth down four times, and converted three of those. Defensively, though, the Tar Heels’ inability to stop Duke on third down cost UNC repeatedly.
“We weren’t making any plays on defense,” 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 receivers were getting open.”
Ebron sets ACC record
Eric Ebron on Saturday set the ACC’s single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end. Ebron, a junior who has already announced his intention to enter the NFL draft, caught five passes for 121 yards.
He finished the regular season with 55 catches for 895 yards. Vernon Davis, from Maryland, previously held the ACC’s single-season record for receiving yardage by a tight end. Davis had 871 yards in 2005.
Ebron, though, wasn’t much in the celebrating mood after UNC’s loss.
“I’ll probably celebrate tomorrow,” he said. “But right now, we lost. So I can’t really celebrate the way I want to.”
Ebron’s 79-yard reception in the first quarter was UNC’s longest passing play ever in Kenan Stadium. … Williams’ 104 rushing yards were a career high, and the most for a UNC quarterback since Darian Durant ran for 110 yards against Clemson in 2003. … Sophomores scored all of UNC’s touchdowns on Saturday, and freshmen and sophomores have now accounted for 42 of the Tar Heels’ 50 touchdowns this season. … Williams has 1,058 yards of total offense in the past three games. That’s the most total yardage for any UNC player ever over a three-game stretch.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter