In the end UNC and Duke's season have been opposites in a way. Both teams are fairly evenly matched across the board. Both teams have average offenses and defenses relative to the rest of college football. But one team is now 10-2 and going to the ACC Championship Game and the other 6-6 and possibly headed to some less than desirable bowl destination. The reason? Perfectly illustrated on the final two drives of the game. Tre Boston dropped an interception that would have killed the Blue Devil drive and preserved a one point UNC lead. Instead Duke gets a field goal to take a 27-25 lead. On the Tar Heels' next possession, Marquise Williams drives the Heels near midfield but throws a game ending interception handing the Blue Devils the two point win.
For the Tar Heels it was a litany of mistakes all day. Penalties played a huge role with UNC seemingly being penalized on every kickoff return which is a bit amusing considering all hand wringing that went on when the refs missed a block in the back by Sean Tapley that sprang Eric Ebron for a big play. UNC more than made up for that one with nine penalties for 85 yards. None was bigger than Russell Bodine being flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct turning what would have been a 3rd and 2 at the nine into a 3rd and 17 at the Duke 24. The Tar Heels ultimately settled for a field goal and just a one point lead.
In addition to the penalties, Marquise Williams had trouble all day hitting receivers which resulted in two interceptions and several missed opportunities. With the Tar Heels trailing 24-15 and the ball at the Duke 37, Williams threw four straight incompletions. One hit T.J. Logan in the hands and was dropped, another was behind Ryan Switzer and the other two overthrows to open receivers near or in the end zone. Still, where Williams struggled in passing the ball he made up for(to some extent) with 104 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. His mobility keep the Heels in the game at a time when his passing was on the verge of putting the game out of reach.
Despite the issues, UNC was in the game rallying from nine down to lead by one with seven minutes left. However the defense had one of those days where getting off the field when it needed to simply didn't happen enough. The first half saw the Tar Heel defense shredded and the special teams give up a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown staking Duke to a 17-15 halftime lead. The theme continued into the second half with the Blue Devils rolling down the field for another touchdown to make the lead nine early in the third quarter. At this point the Tar Heel defense stiffened a bit and kept the Blue Devils off the scoreboard long enough to give the offense a chance to regain the lead. But midway through the fourth quarter the Tar Heel defense was once again unable to keep the Blue Devils in check. Tre Boston dropped a sure interception and on the following play Duke QB Anthony Boone found Jela Duncan for a 29-yard reception to put Duke into field goal range. UNC managed to keep Duke out of the end zone but the damage was done. The Blue Devils nailed the easy field goal and punched a ticket to Charlotte.
The Tar Heels fall to 6-6 and while the season didn't end in ideal fashion, it is certainly a better place than it was on October 17th. This is still a young team and that youth has made its presence felt in the five game winning streak carrying much of the load, especially on offense. The bowl eligibility is less important for the bowl but for the extra time it affords for practice in December. The future is bright in Chapel Hill with a group that showed tremendous resiliency and after an offseason of development should improve on both sides of the ball.