Javonte Williams couldn’t even watch.
He sat on the sideline, his eyes closed. Minutes ago, the sophomore running back had fumbled with his team three yards from the end zone. Now, as Duke marched 92 yards down the field in less than three minutes, he sulked.
Eighteen seconds remained. The Blue Devils trailed by three at the Tar Heels’ 1-yard line. Williams thought the game was over.
But after Duke quarterback Quentin Harris handed the ball off to running back Deon Jackson, Jackson jumped up and threw it, attempting to hit tight end Noah Gray in the endzone.
Instead, it was UNC linebacker Chazz Surratt who leapt up to grab the ball. The interception allowed the Tar Heels to beat the Blue Devils, 20-17, for the program’s first win over its archrival since 2015.
“I just said a prayer,” Williams said after the game. “I was like, ‘Thank you, God.’ Because I know it had to be him.”
Surratt’s clutch moment, and his story of redemption, were too storybook-esque. Two years ago, many looked at Surratt as the reason UNC lost to Duke at home. With his team trailing by three points with four minutes left, the then-redshirt first-year quarterback threw an awkward two-handed interception that sealed the Tar Heels’ fate.
Last season, Surratt lost his starting role to then-redshirt junior Nathan Elliott. And when head coach Mack Brown returned to Chapel Hill, he brought in first-year Sam Howell months later.
Surratt saw the writing on the wall. But instead of transferring, he opted to use his athleticism in a different way.
The Denver, North Carolina, native converted to linebacker. And his persistence has paid off. Through UNC’s first eight games this season, Surratt leads the team in tackles with 75 and is tied for the lead in sacks with five.
“I think it’s crazy,” he admitted. “But, you know, stuff happens for a reason. I was in that position for a reason.”
Williams said Surratt didn’t know any of the defensive coverages in the spring and “barely knew how to get his stance straight.”
“I think he’s pretty much one of the best in the ACC,” Williams said. “I don’t know how to describe what he’s done. Because that’s one of the less contact positions, as quarterback, and then he's going to hitting every play. That just shows what type of player he is.”
In Surratt, Brown sees a future NFL linebacker. The head coach said he’s seen “significant improvement” from Surratt’s first outing as a linebacker in the season opener against South Carolina.
“I’m so proud of Chazz,” Brown said. “He works so hard every day … He’s big and he’s fast, and he’s learning every week to have better linebacker instincts.”
While a mistake of his own cost the Tar Heels the game against the Blue Devils in 2017, this time, Surratt saved the day after a teammate’s error.
He provided Williams with something he himself didn’t receive two seasons ago: a moment of relief.
As Williams saw Surratt rise up from the turf with the football and run to the sideline in celebration, he ran to running backs coach Robert Gillespie.
“That was crazy,” Williams said. “I just ran straight to Coach G and gave him a hug. I mean, we hugged for like five seconds.”
But Surratt — in his usual fashion — didn’t make the moment about himself. When asked by reporters the significance of his interception, he focused on the bigger picture.
“I’m just thankful to help my team win,” Surratt said. “That’s the most important thing.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.