They didn’t come to score four touchdowns in the first half when they feasibly could have scored seven with smarter play. And they certainly didn’t come to fall victim to Duke for the third year in a row.
They came for a win. To earn themselves the right to a bowl game and to reclaim the Victory Bell that’s been missing from Chapel Hill since the 2011-12 season.
On Thursday night, the members of the North Carolina football team got it all, and with a 45-20 victory, they did it in blowout fashion in their biggest rival’s house.
Now the Tar Heels (6-5, 4-3 ACC) have knocked the Blue Devils (8-3, 4-3 ACC) out of the ACC Championship game. Now they’ve proven they can contend with some of the best talent in the ACC.
“We’ve finally put together a complete game in all three phases of the game: offensively, defensively and special teams,” Coach Larry Fedora said. “Other than the three turnovers that we had offensively, it couldn’t have been a more solid game for us.”
UNC hopped on the scoring train midway through the first quarter with a three-yard pass from Williams to Quinshad Davis. It was his fifth receiving touchdown of the season, giving UNC a 7-0 lead after Thomas Moore punched in the extra point.
Davis is now one touchdown catch away from tying Hakeem Nicks’ school record for 21 career receptions for touchdowns.
“Inching, inching, inching,” Davis said. “I should have tied it tonight, but I’m inching.”
Exactly 45 seconds after Davis found the end zone, UNC found a way to double its lead. Senior safety Tim Scott came up with a 10-yard fumble recovery and jetted into the end zone, silencing a stunned Wallace Wade Stadium in the process.
The groundwork had been laid, the momentum was rolling.
“They prepared themselves. They did the little things that we asked them to do all week so they would be ready to go,” Fedora said. “And they wanted it.”
Duke responded with its first touchdown of the night with 4:22 remaining in the first quarter after Anthony Boone connected with Issac Blakeney from 10 yards out. But after that, Mack Hollins scored on a one-yard pass from Williams in the quarter’s final two minutes. By halftime, up 28-7, UNC had built a lead it would never relinquish.
The second half continued to follow script.
T.J. Logan — who rushed for a season-high 116 yards — and Williams both scored touchdowns, while Moore booted in a 30-yard field goal to give the Tar Heels enough cushion in the final 30 minutes when Duke responded with two touchdowns of its own.
Before the fourth quarter even started, the fans trickled out, and UNC players and coaches alike danced on the Tar Heel sideline, their chrome helmets bobbing with every movement — as if it were over.
Because it was.
They did it for the seniors, who were the first ones to have the bell spray-painted Carolina Blue and the loudest ones celebrating as voices echoed off UNC’s locker room walls.
The bell rang, and the Tar Heels sang.
“We’re thinking about letting our seniors go out having fun and going out with a bang,” Williams said.
“(We’re) getting the bell back for those guys and letting them go out and tell their kids, ‘Hey man, I did that back in the day.’’’