Surratt's first career interception seals UNC's loss on Saturday
Quarterback Chazz Surratt had a high-top leather chair waiting for him after North Carolina’s 27-17 loss to Duke.
He walked in with his grey North Carolina jumpsuit on and his shoes unlaced. He sat down, his posture bent and his eyes blank. He stared through the cameras and the voice recorders and the swarm of reporters that vied for his attention.
The redshirt first-year had so much to be proud of in his third ever start. Surratt threw for 259 yards with one touchdown and one interception on 17 of 32 passing, and he added 77 yards on the ground.
He even scampered for a 56-yard touchdown — UNC's longest quarterback touchdown run since Darian Durant's 63-yarder against Clemson in 2003 — and went viral after he threw a Blue Devil defender into the grass with a nasty stiff arm on a separate play.
But through all the questioning, the lefty didn’t shed a smile.
When asked about if his teammates told him about the abundant social media attention his stiff-arm garnered, Surratt answered: “No, no they didn’t. But that’s cool.”
He wasn’t enthusiastic, but how could he be? UNC football hasn’t won a home game in 2017. The team has now lost its last six matchups against schools from Power Five conferences, and it hasn’t beaten its conference arch-rival since 2015. The Tar Heels have entered each game’s fourth quarter with the lead this season, and they only have one win to show for it.
“We were in a position in the fourth quarter to win a football game, and we didn’t finish,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “That’s happened to us three times. And again, just so everybody understands, that’s my responsibility. We’re up in the fourth, I got to find a way to get this team to finish.”
But those reasons don't tell the full story as to why Surratt was down. In a mostly impressive and valiant effort, his performance was punctuated by a mistake that ultimately determined the game.
The Tar Heels were driving. Surratt had completed a 24-yard pass to Anthony Ratliff-Williams. But a sack and an incompletion led to a third and 12, with North Carolina down 20-17 on Duke’s 39-yard line.
On the ensuing play, Surratt stepped up in a congested pocket and launched the ball with two hands over his helmet toward Ratliff-Williams in the middle of the field. The ball landed in the hands of a Duke defensive back, who took Surratt's first career interception to the house.
“I just had pressure and at the time, I was trying to do too much,” Surratt said. “Just trying to get the ball out of my hands, I just didn’t want to give up a sack. I just didn’t have a good platform to throw.”
The score didn’t budge again.
Four minutes of game time later, the Blue Devils ran over and started spinning and ringing the Victory Bell — the token the winning team in this rivalry gets to flaunt and decorate. The Tar Heels walked over to their goal line, linked over each other’s shoulders and faced a spotty, half-full student section singing UNC’s alma mater.
In the locker room, Surratt’s favorite target on Saturday told him to be proud of his performance. After all, one throw could’ve changed everything — from the Tar Heels’ winless home record to Surratt’s expressionless post-game interview.
“Great game,” Ratliff-Williams recalled saying to his quarterback. “Keep your head up. No matter what anybody says, you got to stay positive, because we need you.”
The sophomore receiver added: “I mean, every player on the team is deflated after a loss like that when it is such a close game. We all got to keep our heads up and bounce back. We still got more games to play.”
Even though he had so much to be proud of, it was evident Surratt was focused on the play that lost his team the game.
And no locker room talk or impressive stat line could’ve changed that.