North Carolina kept its ACC Coastal Division hopes alive on Saturday with a dramatic win over the Duke Blue Devils. The Tar Heels’ victory, combined with Virginia’s loss to Louisville, has North Carolina tied with the Cavaliers atop the division. The two programs will now do battle in Chapel Hill this Saturday night. A win would put the Tar Heels in position to take control of the Coastal.
ACC Coastal Division is Up for Grabs
Virginia and Miami were the preseason favorites in the Coastal Division, but at this point, the title is up for grabs. A resurgent North Carolina program has been near the top of the ACC Coastal division standings since beating Miami in September. Duke, Pitt, and Virginia Tech have all factored into the conversation at one point or another. Georgia Tech is the only Coastal program that remained out of the hunt all season.
North Carolina’s loss to Virginia Tech certainly cost the Tar Heels a chance to take control of the division. However, this past Saturday’s win against Duke was just what the doctor ordered. It gave the Tar Heels a third conference victory, while the Blue Devils have now lost two straight. Virginia seemed ready to win the division after blowing out Duke two weeks ago. The Cavaliers couldn’t keep up the momentum, losing on the road to the Cardinals. The result is a tie at the top, with North Carolina and Virginia both holding 3-2 conference records.
At this point, we can be sure that Clemson will come out on top of the Atlantic Division. The Tigers are undefeated and steamrolling toward another appearance in the College Football Playoff. On the way, they’ll have to play the winner of the Coastal Division in Charlotte, for the ACC Championship. Who they’ll get to play has been anybody’s guess, but after Saturday, the picture will be much clearer. If the Tar Heels can beat Virginia, they just might get a November rematch after losing a heartbreaker to Clemson in September.
Dramatic Win Keeps Tar Heels in the Hunt
North Carolina’s ACC Coastal aspirations and postseason hopes were on the line against Duke. The Tar Heels entered the game as a three-point favorite, but in this rivalry, just about anything is possible. At the very least, most observers expected a high-scoring game.
What we got was the complete opposite. North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell didn’t have one of his better games, completing only 10 out of 26 passes. Running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter were effective, with both averaging five or more yards per carry. However, drives that started with promise ended up sputtering out. Howell did complete a 29-yard touchdown pass to Beau Corrales in the first quarter, but the Tar Heels didn’t score again before halftime. North Carolina’s defense played well, limiting Duke to a field goal and taking a 7-3 lead into the break.
Howell hit Dazz Newsome with a 47-yard scoring bomb early in the third quarter. The Blue Devils answered with a Quentin Harris touchdown pass. Duke then took advantage of an interception and scored again on a quarterback keeper, taking a 17-14 lead. North Carolina ran the ball at will against a tired Duke defense, but the Tar Heels couldn’t get back into the end zone. Two field goals by Noah Ruggles would give North Carolina a 20-17 advantage with seven minutes to play.
Drama in the Final Minute
North Carolina drove downfield and seemed ready to deliver the fatal blow with just over a minute left. However, Williams fumbled while diving for the end zone, and Duke had new life. The Blue Devils, with the help of three penalties, found themselves on the Tar Heels’ two-yard line with a first down. Duke ran a Tim Tebow-style jump pass, but North Carolina’s defense was ready. Linebacker Chazz Surratt saved the day, intercepting the pass and sealing the win for the Tar Heels. North Carolina had recovered both the Victory Bell and its ACC Coastal hopes.
Scouting the Cavaliers
It doesn’t get any easier for the Tar Heels this weekend against Virginia. This will be one of the better teams North Carolina has faced all season. However, the Cavaliers have been difficult to figure out. Will this be the team that blew out Duke or the one that lost to Miami and Louisville?
For the most part, Virginia’s defense has looked solid. The Cavaliers don’t give up a lot of big plays, but one potential spot of weakness may have been exposed on Saturday. Louisville running back Javian Hawkins ran wild against Virginia, with 136 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. It’s natural to wonder if this could be the game when North Carolina’s running backs explode for a career night. The Tar Heels will have to finish off drives with Carter or Williams finding the end zone.
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins has done a good job of running the offense, without doing anything spectacular. He threw the ball 41 times against Louisville, so he will almost certainly put North Carolina’s injury-riddled secondary to the test. The Tar Heels defensive front has to pressure Perkins into throwing incompletions, as Louisville did.
Virginia has been suspect away from home, as their 1-3 road record attests to. They will face a loud and hostile crowd in Chapel Hill this Saturday. If the Tar Heels can get a lead in this one, Virginia may not have the offensive firepower to make a comeback. With the ACC Coastal potentially hanging in the balance, this game is destined to be a slugfest.