Duke coach David Cutcliffe joked this week it must be November if Duke and North Carolina were playing each other in football.
Cutcliffe can only hope the Blue Devils are playing just as well come November.
The Blue Devils, trailing in the fourth quarter Saturday, fought back for a 27-17 victory over the Tar Heels in the earliest football meeting ever between the two rivals to remain unbeaten this season.
With UNC leading 17-13, Duke quarterback Daniel Jones connected with T.J. Rahming on a 45-yard completion. A 12-yard pass to wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd, on fourth-and-5 at the UNC 24, set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Shaun Wilson with 6:09 left in the fourth quarter.
Cornerback Bryon Fields Jr. then clinched it with a 61-yard interception for a TD with 4:01 left. Just like that, the Blue Devils were 4-0 after a big win in their ACC opener and loudly clanging the Victory Bell for the second straight year.
“I thought North Carolina played really well,” Cutcliffe said. “I thought Duke played really well. It was a slug-fest of a football game.”
Duke had more yards, ran more plays, kept the ball longer than UNC (1-3, 0-2 ACC), but when the Tar Heels had the ball, and had it in Chazz Surratt’s hands, they made some good things happen.
The redshirt freshman quarterback, recruited heavily by both schools, scored on a 56-yard run and had a 45-yard touchdown throw to Anthony Ratliff-Williams. Surratt passed for 259 yards and rushed for 77, gaining 204 of his 336 total yards in the second half.
“I thought he was very poised,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “I thought he did a really nice job of taking what they were giving us, and then as the game got closer, I think he tried to make something happen and that’s when we made the mistake. We’ll learn from it.”
Jones had a 28-yard scoring pass to tight end Davis Koppenhaver in the first quarter, but the Blue Devils struggled in the red zone during the second and third quarters. A blocked field goal by the Tar Heels in the final seconds of the first half allowed them just enough time to score on Surratt’s throw to Ratliff-Williams.
During Surratt’s recruitment, the former East Lincoln High star initially committed to Duke, then changed his mind. At times Saturday, he showed why both schools wanted him Saturday.
Surratt darted the 56 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter as the Tar Heels pushed in front, 17-13. It was the longest run by a UNC quarterback since Darian Durant’s 63-yarder against Clemson in 2003.
In the final seconds of the first half, Surratt had zipped the 45-yard touchdown throw to Ratliff-Williams. That gave UNC a 10-10 tie at halftime, coming one play after Surratt hit Ratliff-Williams for 35 yards.
Surratt’s long TD run had the UNC crowd roaring. He did again the next time the Tar Heels had the ball, stiff-arming Duke defensive back Alonzo Saxton II to the turf during a 17-yard run.
UNC’s injury list, already a lengthy one, gained a few more names Saturday. Austin Proehl, UNC’s leading receiver this season, left the game soon after a 47-yard catch in the first quarter, senior defensive end Tyler Powell was injured in the third quarter and freshman wide receiver Rontavious Groves – playing his first college game – early in the fourth.
“They played hard. Our team played hard,” Fedora said. “There’s no doubt about the effort that was out there on the field. They made more plays than we did. We’re in a position to win a football game and we didn’t finish and that’s happened to us three times.
“Everybody understands that’s my responsibility. We’re up in the fourth, I’ve got to find a way to get this team to finish.”
A year ago, Jones, then a redshirt freshman, ran for two TDs and passed for a third in Duke’s 28-27 victory over the Tar Heels. He made it another memorable day Saturday.