Duke’s win couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Blue Devils beat rival North Carolina, 28-27, in a rare Thursday night game at Wallace Wade Stadium, stopping the Tar Heels’ two-game winning streak in the series.
With two regular-season games left, both on the road, Duke clinched a confidence-booster by winning back the Victory Bell and ending North Carolina’s run for the Coastal Division title.
Coach David Cutcliffe said November isn’t a bad time to gain some traction.
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“It does propel you into making the next game more meaningful,” he said after Duke seniors celebrated the big trophy-game victory on senior night, many dealing with injuries.
One senior who expected to play in Thursday’s game was cornerback Breon Borders. He sat out with a hip injury and was replaced by true freshman corner Mark Gilbert.
The secondary picked off quarterback Mitch Trubisky twice, matching his total on the year and bringing it to four overall. Senior safety Deondre Singleton provided the first one, which ended Carolina’s first drive of the third quarter. Alonzo Saxton II intercepted Trubisky’s final pass attempt at the end of the fourth Thursday.
Here are some notes on Duke’s win over No. 15 UNC:
The Blue Devils didn’t panic: Duke (4-6, 1-5 ACC) entered the second quarter down 14-0. UNC (7-3, 5-2) scored on both drives in the first, when Trubisky found Thomas Jackson and Bug Howard for touchdown passes. The latter was a 10-play, 96-yard drive highlighted by Elijah Hood’s 20-yard gain on the first snap, and he hurdled over a Duke defender to get a few more yards up the sideline. Duke scored three touchdowns in the second.
Cutcliffe acknowledged how hard UNC’s running backs were to tackle, but Duke linebackers Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys did quite all right. Giles-Harris tallied a career-high 16 tackles, while Humphreys added 11. It was Humphreys’ fifth time in the last six games with double-digit tackles. He’s had a sack in two of the last three games, his one Thursday coming on third-and-10 at the end of the first half.
Duke heightened its defensive pressure at the ends of the second and third quarters.
Tied 21-21, a Marquies Price hurry followed by Humphrey’s sack (loss of 7 yards) held the score going into the locker room.
After a 75-yard return by T.J. Logan, Duke remained calm as UNC set up at the 25. Giles-Harris and Humphreys stopped third-and-1, forcing the Tar Heels settle for a 37-yard field goal.
Duke’s final scoring drive was huge: Responding to UNC’s 36-yard field goal that gave the Tar Heels a 24-21 lead with 6:10 in the third, redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones facilitated two key gains. He connected for 35 yards with T.J. Rahming on third-and-8 to get the Devils down to the UNC 37. His next trick was a 23-yard run, placing the team deep inside the red zone.
He capped it off with a jump throw to redshirt sophomore tight end Davis Koppenhaver through a cluster of defenders to capture Duke’s first lead.
“That was a heckuva play by Davis,” Jones said. “To go and snatch that ball, he’s a tremendous player and has a real special ability to get the ball. That was a great drive to get down there and put some pressure on them. You’ve got to give credit to the offensive line with that drive and how they kind of imposed their physicality.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan