Duke reversed all kinds of streaks in its 28-27 win over No. 15 North Carolina Thursday, the second time the teams have met on that day.
The Blue Devils stopped a three-game losing streak, picking up their first ACC win against an impressive UNC team (7-2, 5-2 ACC) that fell out the race for the Coastal Division title. The Blue Devils beat a ranked opponent for the first time since September 2015 and it’s first in the top 15 for the first time since 1994.
They won back the Victory Bell by playing standup defense when it counted and thanks in part to the performance of their young quarterback.
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Daniel Jones threw long and short. He ran far and wide. The redshirt freshman found seven targets on his way to a 22-of-34 night, finishing with 240 yards.
For the second straight week, Jones ran in a pair of touchdowns. He now leads Duke (4-6, 1-5) with seven rushing touchdowns, and he finished with 94 rushing yards, including a 29-yard pickup on third-and-3 to start the fourth quarter.
“We were confident in our preparation,” Jones said. “We’ve been close. We’ve proven we can fight. I think I’ve progressed in my understanding of managing a game, but it’s certainly easier to give the ball to Shaun (Wilson) or Joe and watch the offensive line create holes. Tight ends, wide receivers all over the field making plays.
“My job is easier because of them.”
The quarterback’s pass on fourth-and-7 on a late possession fell short near the goal line, but Duke’s defense gave Jones & Co. one more opportunity. But, a one-point lead was enough in the waning moments of the 103rd game of the series; UNC won the previous two, combining for 111 points in those two wins.
With 3:49, Jones found T.J. Rahming for a 19-yard gain to convert a third down. Jones wound up punting to end that possession, setting UNC up at its own 6 with 1:51 to play.
The way Carolina’s offense played to start the game and how it’s been known to play all year, defense had to stay sharp until the end.
“I just think against a team with all those weapons, it takes a while,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “They’re using all of them. Their running backs are tough to tackle. That shocks you a bit. I can’t say enough our second-half defense is special.”
The defense, playing without Breon Borders (hip), needed one more big play to help seal it, and junior defensive back Alonzo Saxton II delivered.
With just 1:02 left on the clock, UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky scanned the field and lofted the ball up the middle, right into the arms of Saxton. It was Duke’s second interception of the game, the first when Deondre Singleton picked off Trubisky in the third. It was Singleton’s team-leading third interception of the season. It was Duke’s first since the Army game on Oct. 8, previously going nine straight games with an interception.
The Blue Devils stood tall at the ends of the second and third quarters to limit an efficient UNC offense. Duke forced UNC to punt in the Tar Heels’ final two possessions of the second quarter, heightening the pressure after a timeout with 1:08 left. The Blue Devils came back on the field, broke up a Trubisky pass, caused another incomplete pass by way of a quarterback hurry and forced UNC to punt after a sack. The score was tied at 21 at halftime.
“We just tried to rattle the quarterback,” said linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, whose career-high 16 tackles made him the fifth Duke freshman to have at least that many in a game. “We just went after him, and we got him. Me, Ben (Humphreys), the D-line, we all did our jobs. We won our one-on-ones and got to him.”
Duke also outgained the Tar Heels 227-106 on the ground, led by Wilson’s 107 yards on 24 carries.
What it means
Duke has been to a bowl game every year for the last four. The Blue Devils moved to within a win of bowl eligibility with the victory. They’ll face Pitt and then Miami on the road to close out their regular season.
And their first ACC win, over a ranked North Carolina team, is a major momentum.
7: Yards Humphreys knocked Trubisky back on a sack at the end of the first half. With UNC’s ability to drive quick, the defense turned up the pressure to keep the score tied going into the locker room.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan