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The Daily Tar Heel
From the Press Box

Noted & Quoted: UNC falls to Blue Devils 33-30

Duke beat UNC in football 33-3 on Saturday evening in Durham.
Buy Photos Duke beat UNC in football 33-3 on Saturday evening in Durham.

DURHAM — The North Carolina football team fell to Duke on Saturday for the first time since 2003. Here are some of the highlights from the post-game reaction.

Saturday’s Duke-North Carolina football game was all about the big play. But while the Tar Heels usually ride big plays on offense, this time they were on the receiving end.

On their game-winning drive, the Blue Devils drove 87 yards behind big play after big play. The biggest, obviously, was the touchdown, which came on a fourth-and-two from the UNC five-yard line and left just 13 seconds on the clock.

“They did whatever they wanted to do,” coach Larry Fedora said. “They threw it, they ran it, they did whatever they wanted to do, and they took it down and scored.”

But big plays were a problem for the whole game. Duke gashed UNC on the ground and through the air. Most of the damage came in the Blue Devils’ rushing attack — they finished with 234 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.

The middle of the Tar Heel defense was wide open all game long. Duke passed for long gains in front of the UNC safeties and ran straight up the middle for first downs seemingly at will.

Bernard almost saves the day

For all the big plays Duke had, North Carolina thought it might have gotten the biggest when running back Giovani Bernard recovered teammate Erik Highsmith’s fumble and advanced it for the go-ahead touchdown with three minutes left.

From the UNC 40-yard line, quarterback Bryn Renner lobbed a pass to an uncovered Highsmith down the middle of the field. Highsmith stumbled making the catch, allowing the coverage to catch up to him, and was stripped at the Duke 24-yard line.

Only one player was in sight — a Duke defensive back — and it looked like the Blue Devils would come up with a possibly game-sealing turnover.

But Bernard came out of nowhere to dive and knock the ball away from the defender. He ran it down at the four-yard line, scooped it up in stride and took it into the end zone.

“I chased the ball, followed the ball,” Bernard said. “Something that we stress is don’t end the play. It’s a matter of following your players — you never know what could happen.”

Boston tops Tar Heel tacklers

An unusual number showed up on UNC’s stat sheet — Tre Boston, a safety, led the Tar Heels in tackles with 17.

Usually, linebackers will have the most tackles on a team. Tommy Heffernan and Kevin Reddick, the North Carolina players with the second- and third-most tackles against Duke, are both linebackers.

When a defensive back has to make a lot of tackles, it usually means the other team is successfully getting the ball down the field and forcing the secondary to make plays.

But Reddick said Boston had to make tackles based on UNC’s defensive scheme.

“He was supposed to (make the tackles) with the cutbacks,” Reddick said. “They would cut back to his gap, so he was always supposed to be there. It should be that way.”

But Fedora said that it wasn’t good that the Tar Heel defense was relying so heavily on a defensive back to make stops.

Another secondary player, cornerback Jabari Price, also recorded double-digit tackles, finishing the game with 11.

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Special Print Edition
The Daily Tar Heel Victory Paper for November 20, 2023