Players and coaches had said all along that they could do it.
But somehow, some way, it just never got done. Until Saturday.
In what might have been its final contest of the season, the North Carolina football team put together a complete game. The Tar Heels scored on offense, defense and special teams as they pounded Duke 59-21 in front of 24,673 spectators at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The win, UNC's third in a row, made the team bowl eligible. North Carolina (6-5 overall, 3-5 in the ACC) is one of six such teams in the ACC, but only five squads are guaranteed postseason trips.
"This team is very deserving of a bowl," UNC coach Carl Torbush said. "Any time you finish like we finished with three wins in a row, I think it means a lot more about where you are right now than if you ended up 7-4 and lost the last four games.
"I feel good about that, and we've done all we need to do."
That statement certainly applies to UNC's first-half performance against the Blue Devils, who wrapped up their second 0-11 season in the last **** years.
Led by quarterback Ronald Curry, the Tar Heels put up an ACC-record number of points in one half to carry a 52-7 lead into the locker room.
Curry broke a 7-7 tie with a 43-yard scramble up the middle for a touchdown with 5:45 remaining in the first quarter, and then the flood gates opened.
After a 37-yard field goal by Jeff Reed, defensive end Julius Peppers sacked Duke quarterback D. Bryant and forced a fumble. Joey Evans picked it up and returned it 26 yards to the 1, where Curry scored on a sneak two plays later to make it 24-7.
The touchdown was UNC's first of five in the second quarter as it set a school record with 35 points in the frame.
Even Peppers got into the act. He intercepted a screen pass from Bryant and returned it 27 yards for a score.
"I know it was just like a nightmare (for Duke) because everything we did the first half was right - we didn't make any mistakes," Torbush said. "We did everything you could possibly do in the first half to be a dominating football team."
That included special teams, a weakness for the Tar Heels all season. On Duke's ensuing possession after Curry's 1-yard TD run, Bosley Allen returned a punt 63 yards for the first of his three touchdowns on the day.
Allen also caught scoring passes of 16 and 13 yards from Curry.
"It's pretty amazing to score three touchdowns," said Allen, who became the first Tar Heel since Charlie Justice in 1948 to return two punts for scores in the same season. "It kind of reminds me of high school, but this is another level."
Curry's scoring passes to Allen were his first in five games, dating back to UNC's Sept. 30 loss to Georgia Tech. Curry broke that streak and broke a record in the process.
He became UNC's single-season leader in total offense, rolling up 323 yards against Duke to give him 2,676 for the year. Curry, who completed
18-of-24 passes for 218 yards, recorded his first-career 100-yard rushing game. He slashed for 105 yards on 10 carries.
Duke's quarterbacks weren't quite so productive against the ever-improving UNC defense. Bryant completed 3-of-13 passes for 18 yards before leaving with an injured hand, and Spencer Romine responded with a 7-for-23 effort and two interceptions in relief.
The Tar Heels limited the Blue Devils to 86 yards of total offense on 35 plays in the first half, and 69 of them came on Duke's lone scoring play, a touchdown run by freshman Chris Douglas.
"The plays we've had the potential to make all year, we made them," said UNC corner back Errol Hood, who intercepted a pass against Duke for the second consecutive year.
Now, the Tar Heels hope they get one more game to make those plays. They want one more chance to put together a complete game.
"I'm confident we're going to a bowl game," senior linebacker Brandon Spoon said. "Especially today, putting up the numbers we did really shows a lot of bowl scouts that we deserve to go to a bowl game.
"I've still got another game to play."
The Sports Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.