UNC's Anthony Elzy (6) and Da'Norris Searcy (21) savor their 24-19 victory over Duke with a ride on the victory bell. ROBERT WILLETT - firstname.lastname@example.org
DURHAM — There is a temporary sticker of a North Carolina helmet affixed to the front of the Victory Bell. The Tar Heels ought to find something more permanent, maybe a "Property of" plate to weld to the rickety sled.
The Tar Heels took home the Victory Bell, again, on Saturday with a 24-19 win over Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium. UNC has won seven straight and 20 of 21 in the series, including 11 straight at Duke.
As usual, Duke made UNC earn it with nine late points, but it wasn't enough to give the Blue Devils their first home win in the series since 1988.
UNC quarterback T.J. Yates completed his ACC career with another strong performance in a strong senior season with 264 passing yards and a touchdown. Senior running back Anthony Elzy added a career-best 117 rushing yards for the Heels, who closed the regular season with a 7-5 record (4-4 in the ACC) and now await their bowl fate.
Duke closes coach David Cutcliffe's third season with a 3-9 record and 1-7 mark in the ACC.
UNC's offense started slow but Yates made up for it with an efficient, controlled passing attack on two long scoring drives to give UNC a 10-7 halftime lead. Yates completed 28-of-35 passes for the game.
The Heels drove 94 yards, capped by Elzy's 5-yard touchdown run, for their first touchdown and then 87 yards to set up Casey Barth's 25-yard field goal.
Duke led 7-0 after a 9-yard touchdown catch by receiver Austin Kelly. The Blue Devils had converted on fourth-and-6 from their own 22 to extend the drive and present an early hope the series could be turned in their favor.
Instead, UNC woke up from its N.C. State hangover and kept Duke at an arms-length with two second-half touchdowns. Yates rocked back and threaded a perfect pass to Joshua Adams in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
Duke cut UNC's lead to 17-10 on a Will Snyderwine field goal with 2:31 left in the third quarter and recovered the ensuing onside kick. Duke was flagged for offsides on the surprise kick and UNC got the ball and scored on the next drive.
Senior running back Shaun Draughn ran six times for 40 yards on the drive and capped it with a 3-yard touchdown run to push UNC's advantage to 24-10.
Duke got a safety when Duke defensive tackle Charlie Hatcher stopped Draughn in the end zone to cut UNC's lead to 24-12. The Blue Devils scored on the next drive, even after quarterback Sean Renfree was temporarily knocked out with an injured right shoulder. Brandon Connette came in and rushed twice for nine yards, the second attempt for two yards and a touchdown.
Down 24-19 with 3:20 left, Duke eschewed the onside and kicked deep and pinned the Heels at their own 9. UNC got one first down then had to punt. Duke got the ball back at UNC's 24-yard line with 43 seconds left but UNC's defense didn't let them cross midfield.
The mostly pro-Carolina crowd at Wallace Wade stuck around until the end to watch the Heels celebrate with the Victory Bell.
The UNC contingent will have to wait for the ACC bowl order to be sorted before the Tar Heels learn who they'll play next. The Music City Bowl in Nashville on Dec. 30 against an SEC opponent — Tennessee, Kentucky or possibly Georgia — appears to be the most likely destination.
Either way, Saturday's win guaranteed UNC its third straight winning season, which hadn't happened since 1996-1998, and possession of the Victory Bell for another year.