Most memorable Duke-North Carolina football games

Fans ringed the sidelines and famous bandleader Kay Kyser (right) and a UNC cheerleader lead the crowd in cheers at the 1939 Duke-Carolina game played in Durham. UNC's mascot, Rameses, can be seen just behind the cheerleader.
Fans ringed the sidelines and famous bandleader Kay Kyser (right) and a UNC cheerleader lead the crowd in cheers at the 1939 Duke-Carolina game played in Durham. UNC's mascot, Rameses, can be seen just behind the cheerleader.

The football series between Duke and North Carolina enters its 101st installment (or 102nd, depending on which school you ask) on Saturday, and while the rivalry never achieved a place in the national consciousness like its men’s basketball counterpart, it has produced plenty of stirring contests over the years.

Saturday’s game has ACC Coastal Division implications for both teams, and the Victory Bell series has influenced bowl bids and conference titles. Here’s a look at seven memorable Duke-North Carolina football games, from the pre-ACC era to the present day.

Nov. 18, 1939: Duke 13, North Carolina 3

It remains the last time Duke and North Carolina met as ranked teams (the Blue Devils were knocked out of the top 25 thanks to Saturday’s loss to Miami), and it carried substantial postseason ramifications. No. 7 North Carolina entered the game with a 7-0-1 mark and no losses in Southern Conference play, while No. 13 Duke (6-1) also sported a perfect league record.

The Tar Heels had a chance to all but lock up their first bowl bid a year after the Blue Devils made their bowl debut with a Rose Bowl appearance. Instead, Duke pulled the upset as a record crowd of 52,000 packed then-Duke Stadium for the game. It stands as the fourth-largest attendance figure at what is now known as Wallace Wade Stadium.

Nov. 22, 1969: Duke 17, North Carolina 13

Neither team finished the season with a winning record (though North Carolina did win two more games than the previous season as it built toward eventual back-to-back ACC titles under Bill Dooley in 1971 and 1972), but this game still provided one of the series’ most memorable plays.

Late in the third quarter, Duke quarterback Leo Hart bent over to tie his shoe, but the rest of his teammates lined up for a snap. Receiver Marcel Courtillet took the ball and connected with Wes Chesson (who is now in his 33rd year as an analyst on Duke’s radio broadcasts) for a 53-yard touchdown. The “shoestring play” snapped a 7-7 tie late in the third quarter and sent Duke on to a victory.

Nov. 20, 1976: North Carolina 39, Duke 38

Needing a victory to secure a 9-2 regular season, seal a bid to the Peach Bowl and deny Duke a winning season, North Carolina got everything it could have wanted in thrilling fashion. Down 38-31 with 2:53 to play, the Tar Heels engineered a 79-yard drive capped with quarterback Matt Kupec’s touchdown pass to fullback Billy Johnson with 37 seconds to play. Carolina went for two, and tailback Mike Voight locked up the win after taking an option pitch.

It was a perfect cap to a career for Voight, who rushed for 261 yards (which ranks sixth in Carolina history) on a whopping 47 carries to lock up his second consecutive ACC player of the year award. It also turned out to be his final college game; he would miss the Peach Bowl with an ankle injury suffered in practice.

Nov. 18, 1989: Duke 41, North Carolina 0

This was in no way a great game, but it certainly was memorable. Duke clinched a share of what remains its last ACC title with what is still its most lopsided victory in the series. Then-Blue Devils coach Steve Spurrier memorably had team photos taken in front of a Kenan Stadium scoreboard – with the 41-0 tally still posted – after the game.

A fired-up North Carolina ultimately had the last laugh, winning 21 of the next 22 in the series (including the next eight under Mack Brown). Spurrier wasn’t around Durham for that; he took the Florida job shortly after the 1989 blowout.

Nov. 19, 1994: North Carolina 41, Duke 40

Until 2013, the 1994 season was the only time both Duke and North Carolina earned bowl bids in the same year. Appropriately enough, the teams produced one of the best games in series history to close out that season.

Duke erased a 10-point deficit to seize a 38-34 lead, but North Carolina backup quarterback Mike Thomas (subbing for an injured Jason Stanicek) connected with Octavus Barnes on a crossing pattern for a 71-yard touchdown with 2:01 to play. A Fuzzy Lee interception appeared to quash the Blue Devils’ hopes, but after the Tar Heels took a safety rather than risk a punt block, Duke got the ball back in the closing seconds. Duke’s field-goal kicker missed a 60-yard attempt short and to the left as time expired.

Nov. 25, 2006: North Carolina 45, Duke 44

Sometimes bad teams are part of something memorable. The Tar Heels had fired coach John Bunting a month earlier (and already hired star-crossed successor Butch Davis), but the North Carolina alum worked through the end of the season, got to be a part of one of the more bizarre Victory Bell games and went out a winner in his final game while dooming Duke to an 0-12 season.

Brandon Tate returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns to key Carolina’s triumph, but the pivotal play came just after Duke defensive lineman Patrick Bailey returned an interception 21 yards with 2:49 to go to pull the Blue Devils within a point, to 45-44. Kentwan Balmer blocked the extra point, and the Tar Heels recovered the ensuing onside kick to run out the clock in what remains the highest-scoring one-point game in ACC history.

Oct. 20, 2012: Duke 33, North Carolina 30

Duke was 5-3 two months into the 2009 season, but a 19-6 loss to North Carolina ignited a four-game slide to end the season and deny the Blue Devils their bowl hopes. Things wouldn’t happen the same way again in 2012.

Duke squandered a 20-6 halftime lead, mustering only a pair of field goals for much of the second half as the Tar Heels seized a 30-26 edge. But Jamison Crowder’s 5-yard touchdown catch from Sean Renfree with 13 seconds remaining got Duke bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994 and ended an eight-game losing streak in the Victory Bell series.

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