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The Daily Tar Heel

PREVIEW: Tomon Fox, UNC football are taking Saturday's matchup with Duke personally

Tomon Fox tackle

Defensive end Tomon Fox (12) tackles Western Carolina quarterback Tyrie Adams (12) on Saturday in Kenan Stadium.

When defensive end Tomon Fox takes snaps against Duke this Saturday, he’ll be no stranger to the offensive lineman he’s trying to beat.

All week, Fox has been eager to face off against Christian Harris, Duke’s starting left tackle. They played football together at Collins Hill High School in Georgia. In 2013, when Harris was a senior and Fox was a sophomore, the Eagles went 11-2 and came two games short of a state championship.

Five years later, Harris is a redshirt senior for the Blue Devils with 29 games of experience. Fox is a redshirt sophomore, with 17 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss in five games. And, in a season already limited by suspension, he can’t to wait line up against his friend.

“I’m about to text him tonight,” Fox joked on Wednesday. “I’m just going to let him know I’m coming, and I’m back, and to be scared.”

Even in a down year for UNC (1-7, 1-5 ACC), rivalry week against Duke still elicits reactions like these. Linebacker Cole Holcomb said that the Tar Heels, already eliminated from postseason contention, are treating it like a quasi-bowl game. And they’re even more focused on bringing the Victory Bell back to Chapel Hill.

Duke has won two straight against UNC football, including a 27-17 win on the road last season. In that game, quarterback Chazz Surratt, a former Duke commit, threw the first interception of his career — an eventual 61-yard dagger of a pick six.

And in 2016, the Blue Devils upset a nationally ranked UNC team, 28-27. Since that loss, the Tar Heels are 3-19 against FBS teams and 2-14 against the ACC.

Holcomb, a senior, played in both of those tight losses. But he also played in North Carolina’s 66-31 trouncing of Duke in 2015. As he spoke on Wednesday, the linebacker was visibly excited — wringing his hands, almost bouncing in place — as he thought about his last chance to bring the bell home.

“We’ve got to get that bell back,” he said. “I’m telling you, man, it doesn’t feel good not having it there. It was nice being able to see it, coming in every day, but it hasn’t been there. So we’ve got to get it back.”

It won’t be an easy task against the 6-3 Blue Devils, who are coming off a 20-12 win at Miami. They’re led by quarterback Daniel Jones, a Charlotte native averaging 226.7 yards a game.

Jones, a capable runner, is joined on the ground by Deon Jackson, who has 115 carries for 647 yards. In the air, Duke boasts two receivers over 400 yards on the season, T.J. Rahming and Johnathan Lloyd. UNC players also credited Duke’s defense for being a steady presence (22.2 points per game allowed).

No player or coach has had trouble getting excited, though. Quarterback Nathan Elliott called it a “bragging rights and pride type of game.” Offensive tackle Charlie Heck used to watch the rivalry on TV as a teenager, when his brother, Jon, played at UNC. He’s now about to play in his third.

Head coach Larry Fedora reminisced on his introductory press conference, back in 2011. As he shook hands with people afterward, the Duke game came up, again and again. On that day, Fedora realized its importance.

“There’s no other rivalry really like this,” he said, as night fell over Kenan Memorial Stadium on Wednesday. “You live with it year-round … it’s always going to be important.”


@DTHSports |

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