It was a busy weekend across the state in college football. The Duke-Carolina rivalry took their hatred to the gridiron, with the Tar Heels winning 20-17 in a wild finish, while Appalachian State easily handled Southern Alabama to remain undefeated and in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl appearance.
The Blue Devils (4-4, 2-3 in ACC)—winners of three straight against the Heels (4-4, 3-2 in ACC)—rolled into Chapel Hill on Saturday with the Victory Bell painted Duke blue. But with the return of championship-winning coach, Mack Brown, and the arrival of a host of new players, UNC entered as four-point favorites.
It was a sloppy, defensive slugfest, with seven turnovers between the two teams, plus three more fumbles that the offense recovered. Still, the Tar Heels found themselves in the driver’s seat in the second half. With the Tar Heels holding a 14-3 lead midway through the third quarter, Duke quarterback Quentin Harris led the Blue Devils on a crushing 10 play, 74-yard drive that ended with a Scott Bracey touchdown reception.
On the ensuing North Carolina possession, quarterback Sam Howell’s pass was tipped by a Duke lineman, snagged by cornerback Jalen Alexander, and rushed back to the Tar Heel five-yard line. Harris pranced in for a touchdown on the next play. In a span of less than 30 seconds, Duke went from down double-digits to suddenly leading.
The Tar Heels inched their way back thanks to two field goals by Noah Ruggles, the second coming with seven minutes left in the fourth.
After a crucial stop, the Tar Heels marched 73 yards down the field to the Duke goal-line. Up 20-17 and looking to ice the game with a touchdown, defensive end Trevon McSwain gave Duke new life and popped the ball out of running back Javonte Williams’ hands. Duke recovered at their own 6.
Duke miraculously converted two fourth-down attempts (one thanks to a facemask penalty) on a 14-play, 92-yard drive. With less than 30 seconds left, the Blue Devils had the ball at the two-yard line. On first-and-goal, the Blue Devils tried to trick the Tar Heels with a jump pass, but linebacker (and former quarterback) Chazz Surratt read it all the way and came down with the game-winning interception. UNC won, 20-17.
Meanwhile, Appalachian State continued their dominance of the Sun Belt, cruising to a 30-3 win at Southern Alabama. The Mountaineer defense allowed just 139 yards of total offense while quarterback Zach Thomas threw a touchdown and running back Raekwon Anderson added another. The Mountaineers will host arch-rival Georgia Southern on Thursday night in a game that will likely decide the conference champion.
In the world of Greensboro football, NC A&T crushed Howard 64-6 on Homecoming. With last week’s loss to Florida A&M, the Aggies will have to hope to Rattlers lose twice before the end of the year if they want to win the MEAC for a third consecutive year. Greensboro College lost 41-10 at home to Methodist University, bringing their record to just 1-6 on the year. Guilford College (2-5, 1-4 in conference) bested Hampden-Sydney College 37-27 for their first conference win of the year.
In other North Carolina college football news, N.C. State and Wake Forest both had the week off. They’ll match up against each other on Saturday in Winston-Salem—it’s the game to watch for this weekend. East Carolina was stomped by South Florida, 45-20, and are dead-last in the American Athletic Conference. UNC Charlotte pulled out a 39-38 win against North Texas for their first conference win of the season.