The offense just fell apart.
“We let it happen,” running back Elijah Hood said. “That’s on us. We’ve gotta do better than that.”
Part of that blame falls on quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Save for UNC’s game against Virginia Tech in hurricane-like conditions, Trubisky hadn’t thrown an interception all year.
Hadn’t. Past tense.
He threw two Thursday night. The first was a deflection in the third quarter, Duke’s Deondre Singleton batting a pass to himself. Not only did the play stunt UNC’s drive — a drive that could have broken the 21-21 deadlock at the time — but it halted the team’s momentum entirely.
“I forced the ball when I shouldn’t have,” Trubisky said. “It’s on me. I’ve got to take care of the ball.”
But the blame is far from his alone. His receivers, Austin Proehl especially, did him no favors with their drops and inability to get open. The running game, which last week produced 283 yards, barely managed 100 against the Blue Devils. No one truly excelled. No one stepped up.
And because of it, the procession continued.
The Tar Heels finally got the ball back with 1:51 in the game and two timeouts. They were deep in their own territory, yes, trying to muster any drop of their early potency, but there was a chance.
The masses slowed, swiveling on their heels at the realization.
“We were gonna go down and score,” Coach Larry Fedora said. “There was no doubt in my mind we were gonna go down and score.”
They didn’t. With just over a minute left, Trubisky sank back into the pocket and unfurled a pass down the field. None of his receivers were nearby; instead, Duke’s Alonzo Saxton II took a knee and let the interception come to him.
He caught it. The stadium roared. The procession could officially commence.
And so it did, entire rows and sections and seemingly chunks of the stands simultaneously rising and turning away, from the loss and the field and the celebration to come. As Carolina Blue poured away from Wallace Wade, navy took its place, vaulting over bushes and walls and each other to storm the field. They didn’t want to watch this jubilation — they wanted to live it.
The players and fans and security guards all coalesced at midfield to lift the trophies they had: orange Gatorade coolers, hats, leftover signs and helmets and even one another.
In the distance, the procession was ending. A loyal few remained, solitary, watching UNC limp off the field and out of sight.
And then they did all there was left to do — they did the same.