Duke is not going back to the ACC championship game.
North Carolina made sure of that.
The Tar Heels jumped all over the Blue Devils on the national stage Thursday night, ending Duke’s division title hopes and a rare two-game losing streak in the rivalry with a 45-20 win.
The win puts the Tar Heels (6-5, 4-3) in the postseason and the Duke loss puts Georgia Tech in the ACC title game Dec. 6 in Charlotte as the Coastal Division champion.
Quarterback Marquise Williams ran for two touchdowns and threw for two to lead UNC to 591 yards of offense.
No. 25 Duke (8-3, 4-3) had controlled its fate in the division, even after losing at home Saturday to Virginia Tech, but it never led during Thursday’s showcase game.
“Tonight we just got outplayed,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I don’t think there’s anything to explain.”
ESPN was there for a football game between the Blues, for once, and Wallace Wade Stadium was full, but it was the Tar Heels who stole the spotlight in their best effort in an up-and-down season.
“We finally put together a complete game,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said.
UNC had dropped the previous two meetings by a total of five points. It was the first time Duke had won consecutive Victory Bell games since winning three straight from 1987 to ’89.
The Tar Heels restored order in the series Thursday night with their 22nd win in 25 games.
The win also makes UNC bowl eligible for the second straight year. The Tar Heels have won at least six games for seven years in a row.
“When you think about going to a bowl game, that’s the best feeling ever,” Williams said. “You don’t want to be sitting at home during Christmas watching everybody else having fun.”
The Tar Heels had given up an average of 48.8 points per road game this season, but they neutralized Duke’s offense and forced three key turnovers.
On offense, running back T.J. Logan ran for a season-high 116 yards and a touchdown and the Tar Heels ran for a season-best 315 yards. Williams ran for 98 yards and threw for 276.
Fedora could not have asked for a better start, even with fumbles on three straight possessions during the second quarter.
That’s because Duke couldn’t get anything going on offense.
The Blue Devils fumbled on their opening possession after driving to the UNC 22.
Williams led a 12-play, 78-yard response capped by a 3-yard touchdown pass to receiver Quinshad Davis.
Forty-five seconds later, UNC forced another fumble. Defensive end Nazair Jones hit Boone on a quarterback keeper and Tim Scott picked up the ball and returned it 10 yards for a 14-0 lead.
Duke answered, after a spectacular fourth-down catch by receiver Jamison Crowder, with a 10-yard touchdown catch by Isaac Blakeney to its deficit to 14-7.
But the Tar Heels didn’t slow down. Logan busted a 48-yard run down the right sideline. It looked like he had scored but was ruled down at the 1 after a replay. On fourth down, Williams hit receiver Mack Hollins on an alley-oop for a 21-7 lead.
Williams tacked on a 1-yard touchdown run and the Tar Heels took a 28-7 lead into the half.
Duke scored twice during the second half but only got as close as 38-20 after a Thomas Sirk 1-yard touchdown run at 8 minutes, 21 seconds of the fourth quarter.