CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina got the big defensive stop it needed in yet another drama-filled finish.
Chazz Surratt picked off Deon Jackson‘s trick-play pass at the goal line with 14 seconds left, helping the Tar Heels hang on for a 20-17 win on Saturday night that reclaimed the rivalry’s Victory Bell.
The Blue Devils had pushed from their own 6-yard line after a UNC turnover to inside the UNC 5 with less than a minute to play. But with no timeouts, Jackson took a handoff and attempted a jump-pass while being hit that was snagged by Surratt, the QB-turned-linebacker who had leapt to deflect the ball but instead ended up corralling it for a game-saving takeaway.
Surratt said the Tar Heels (4-4, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) had discussed that the play could be coming during a timeout only moments before.
”We were expecting it,” Surratt said. ”I thought he’d throw it a little higher and jumped. It came right to me. I just wanted to get it and make sure I got the ball in my hands and (get) on the ground.”
It was another close-call win for a UNC team that has played seven games decided by six or fewer points, with each being decided in the final 80 seconds.
”We’re TV darlings because we come down to the last drive on every game we’ve play but one,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. ”And this, again the last play.”
The Tar Heels celebrated by sprinting across the field as time expired to reclaim the Victory Bell that had been in Duke’s possession the past three seasons.
Surratt’s interception capped a tense final 7 minutes, with the Tar Heels taking the lead on Noah Ruggles’ 40-yard field goal only to commit a costly turnover as they were on the brink of taking a two-possession lead.
Javonte Williams ran for 111 yards for UNC. But after Sam Howell hit Dazz Newsome on a fourth-down conversion inside Duke’s 5-yard line, Williams lost a fumble on a carry up the middle with 2:55 left to set up the final drive for the Blue Devils (4-4, 2-3).
”We learned one thing: we’ve got a team that has a lot of fight to them,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. ”Nobody backed down. … You hate to see a game end like that for players that fought their heart out.”
Duke: The Blue Devils did a lot of things well enough to win, namely by pressuring freshman quarterback Sam Howell and frequently collapsing the pocket to increase the degree of difficulty on his throws. Howell completed just 10 passes (though they went for 227 yards and two scores) while the Blue Devils picked him off twice before getting Williams’ late fumble for a third takeaway. Yet Duke committed three turnovers of its own, the last sealing the loss.
UNC: Once again, the team that has turned seemingly every late-game scenario into Oscar-worthy drama had another fight to the finish. And it was an eerily familiar finish to last year’s home game against Virginia Tech, where the Tar Heels fumbled while trying to run in a clinching score and then surrendered a long touchdown drive to lose on a final-minute score.
”This was different because our defense stepped up and made the play to win the game,” Brown said.
There was at least some postgame tension after the Tar Heels had run across the field to reclaim the Victory Bell near the Duke sideline. Video showed Cutcliffe exchanging words with UNC offensive lineman Jordan Tucker, pointing for Tucker to leave and pushing his arm before Tucker was directed away.
”I was trying to get people to get back to where they belong,” Cutcliffe said. ”Too many staff over there that aren’t our staff. But I can’t tell you what happened because I didn’t see everything that happened or what caused it. I don’t care for those circumstances.”
Brown claimed his 73rd victory with the Tar Heels to set a program record. Brown returned to UNC with 69 wins coming during his first stint with the Tar Heels from 1988-97. Overall, Brown is the winningest active coach in the Bowl Subdivision ranks with 248 wins.
Duke: The Blue Devils are off next weekend before hosting No. 8 Notre Dame on Nov. 9.
UNC: The Tar Heels host Virginia next Saturday in a key Coastal Division clash.