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UNC Football: Tar Heels bend but don’t break in win over Duke for the victory bell

The victory bell remains in Chapel Hill.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Duke Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

It looked like the victory bell was destined to be painted an unholy shade of blue in the late minutes of the fourth quarter after UNC blew a ten-point lead and went down by four. The defense, which really showed up in the third quarter after being abused via Duke’s ground game in the first half, crumbled before our eyes after UNC missed a late field goal that felt like it might have put the game away for the Tar Heels.

With what can only be considered divine intervention, Duke missed a field goal of their own after marching down the field burning clock along the way. It gave the Tar Heels the ball back with at least a shred of hope. That shred was enough.

Drake Maye led the team on a nine-play, 74-yard drive that ended in a touchdown to Antoine Green to give UNC a 38-35 lead with seconds left on the clock. Duke, with three timeouts remaining, attempted to get into field goal range to send the game to overtime, but Will Hardy picked it off to seal the game for the Heels.

The Blue Devils got any and everything they wanted on the ground in the first half. They ran for 192 yards on their way to three first half touchdowns. For UNC, their stats were almost the opposite. All but 87 of UNC’s 265 first half yards came through the air. Soul-searching was needed at halftime to keep the 21-17 deficit from worsening, and the Tar Heels came out of the locker room looking like a different team.

Carolina scored 21 unanswered points to take a ten-point lead in the game. The Heels had a chance to kick a field goal that would have given them a comfortable lead heading into the late stages of the game, but a miss by Noah Burnette seemed to set off things falling apart for the defense. Duke scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to regain the lead, and it looked like they might be able to run the clock out late before their own missed field goal.

Maye threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions and rushed for 70 yards. He did have a questionable fumble late, but that’s just ACC ref stuff. Josh Downs and Green were excellent with 126 and 112 yards, respectively. Caleb Hood, Kamari Morales, and Green accounted for the touchdowns, but Downs was also there to make his quarterback look good throughout the game.

So it was another heart-stopping experience for Tar Heel fans, but as has happened multiple times this season, they were able to bend and not break. Years may have been taken off our lives in the process, but it’s all a W in the books.

The victory bell can safely remain the better shade of blue as it returns to Chapel Hill for another year.

At 3-0 in conference play, Carolina stands on top of the Coastal ahead of the 2-1 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Tar Heels have a bye next week before Pitt comes to Chapel Hill on October 29th.