UNC Beats Duke 37-21; The Military Bowl Awaits

With all the basketball trauma, I never got around to writing up the football team's continuing control of the Victory Bell. The Heels, unsurprisingly, beat Duke to finish their season and provide a good Senior Day experience for a class that has gone through one of the roughest tenures of Carolina football. When you think about it, most of these seniors arrived in Butch Davis's first or second recruiting class. Half their football careers have been stricken from the records, their coach fired, and their teammates suspended. Their season hasn't lived up to expectations, and none of them have taken part in a win over N.C. State. It's not exactly a fairytale college career.

Frankly, the turnout in Kenan was better than I expected, given the opponent and the fact it was Thanksgiving weekend. And UNC came out excited, ready to play, and poised answer a heretofore unasked question – can you beat a team as bad as Duke while completely failing to tackle ever once in a while?

It turns out you can, it's just a little embarrassing. After jumping out to 7-0 lead with a 6-yard Dwight Jones touchdown catch, the Carolina secondary gave up a 70-yard touchdown pass of their own, never laying a finger on receiver Juwan Thompson. It was the longest Duke touchdown of the year, and it was the first play from scrimmage following UNC's own score. The Tar Heels would march back down the field behind Giovani Bernard's destruction of the Blue Devil defense – he would go over 100 yards in the first half and become the sixth Carolina player to top 1,200 yards in a season – but settle for a field goal. They did the same on the following series, and Bernard would run the ball 48 yards untouched for a score on the one after that; up 20-7, the game looked in hand.

Until the Tar Heels allowed another passing touchdown, this one for 45-yards due to a lot of incompetent tackling. The Blue Devils would get a third score soon after halftime from backup QB Anthony Boone, bringing the game to 23-21 and leaving UNC spinning their wheels offensively. Another collapse looked pretty likely.

Enter Dwight Jones. The senior had two more touchdown catches in him, the first a left-handed grab reminiscent of his one-handed catch against ECU. The second was more prosaic, but coupled with an interception and a late Tar Heel defensive stand was enough to seal the game. Jones would finish with 101 yards and set the school single-season record for receptions with 79. That tops Hakeem Nick's mark of 74, and with a bowl game left to play puts him within reach of the man's single-season records for touchdown receptions (12 – Jones has 11) and yardage (1,222 – Jones has 1,119).

So all in all it was a good win. The defense came alive later in the second half and Ryan Houston got to close out his home career with three first downs on a final series to keep the Blue Devil offense off the field. UNC now gets to wait and see which bowl they'll be attending.

The answer is almost certainly the Military Bowl in Washington, DC. Carolina's 3-5 ACC record puts it at a big disadvantage, as they are two or more games behind six ACC teams in the conference standings. This includes Wake Forest, the 6-6 team the Heels handily crushed earlier this month. The only bowl-eligible team UNC could possibly leap is N.C. State, but seeing as the Belk Bowl in Charlotte has all but said they want the Wolfpack, this isn't very likely.

While the eighth choice in the conference pecking order doesn't sound that great for the team, it's a plus for the fans, as the nation's capital is a much better place to visit than Shreveport, Louisiana. The opponent might be as well; while the Independence Bowl gets the third team out of the Mountain West, the Military Bowl is free to choose from any remaining eligible school, as neither the Navy or the Army reached six wins. (The Air Force, however, did and as a Mountain West team might still be available; a 6-6 Big Ten team is plausible as well.)

Bowl invitations will go out after the conference championships and BCS selections, of course, but you can probably start scouting places to stay in the District. I'd love to tell you RFK stadium is a great venue (it's a hole) or that the weather will be nice (not likely) but the game will be good and the city is fun. And it's not Shreveport.

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