It doesn’t matter how you do it, it’s that you do it. The Tar Heels had so many different chances to put the rival Duke Blue Devils away on Saturday night in Kenan Stadium and they finally did in double overtime by breaking up Duke’s two-point conversion attempt to seal a 47-45 win on Senior Night. Here are our biggest takeaways from a massive win for this season and the direction of the program overall.
A Win Is a Win Is A Win
There are a lot of things that we can critique from this win, but in the end, this team got it done when they needed to. After allowing Duke to drive the field and score on a 4th down with just 0:41, Drake Maye led the offense back into field goal range and Noah Burnette hit a game-tying 43-yd field goal as time expired to send it to overtime. The defense would hold Duke to a field goal in the first overall, giving the Tar Heels the chance to win the game, but they would have to settle for their own field goal to get the game into a second overtime. The Tar Heels would use their ground game to find the endzone for the touchdown with a 5-yard touchdown run for Maye. The sophomore quarterback would make an amazing play with a defender draped all over him, finding John Copenhaver in the endzone to go up by eight. The defense wasn’t able to stop the Blue Devils from finding the endzone to cut the lead to two, but Grayson Loftis would overthrow his intended receiver aided by good coverage from Alijah Huzzie as the Tar Heels secured the Victory Bell once again.
Offensive Stars Step Up Again
The Tar Heels offense was put in a position where they had to score almost every time they touched the football and their stars were up to that challenge. Maye had another outstanding night in what will likely be his final game in Kenan Stadium, throwing for 342 yards and a touchdown and rushing for two more scores while making multiple heady plays while being wrapped up by defenders. Tez Walker (7 rec, 162 yds) and Bryson Nesbit (7 rec, 68 yds, TD) both made big plays throughout the night, including on what should have been the game-winning drive in regulation when the team took a 33-29 lead. Those performances in the passing coupled nicely with another big night for running back Omarion Hampton. The Doak Walker Award hopeful hit the 200 scrimmage yard mark again, running for 169 and adding 47 out of the backfield receiving and finding the endzone early in the fourth quarter. The offense certainly had their troubles scoring in the redzone throughout the night, but when the stars on this side of the ball needed to step up and make plays, they did.
Special Teams Wasn’t Great, But Noah Burnette Sure Was
Special teams were one of the elements that nearly cost this team the game, but it was also one of the biggest reasons they won the game. The Tar Heels not being ready for both a fake punt and an onside kick in the second half was frustrating, but placekicker Noah Burnette made important kick after important kick to give this team a chance. He finished the evening a perfect 6 of 6, including a 43-yarder to send it to overtime and a 23-yarder that sent it to double overtime. The six field goals tie the record for most made in a single game in Tar Heel history with Josh McGee, who also made six in a game against Duke back in 1999. This performance just adds to what has been an outstanding turnaround for Burnette, who has become one of the more reliable elements of this Tar Heel team a year after falling apart in these situations and losing his job to Ryan Coe in the offseason.
Defense is Still Struggling
This Tar Heel defense was hoping that last week’s win over Campbell was what they needed to instill a little bit of confidence back in them and become a unit that could be trusted again, but that was far from the case. The unit allowed 379 yards of offense and 45 points to a Duke offense that was being led by a third-string true freshman quarterback who was playing in first game on the road, something that is simply unacceptable. The game was very similar to Georgia Tech for this unit, as they dominated the odd quarters, but were porous in the even quarters. In the 4th quarter alone, the unit allowed 22 points and 209 yards of total offense to the Blue Devils, half the production that their offense had all night. The unit had countless opportunities to get off the field late, none better than the 4th & 7 play on Duke’s final offensive drive of the game where corner Marcus Allen got beat horribly on the outside for a touchdown that gave Duke the lead back. This unit had some encouraging moments early in this game that had us wondering if they were back to their early season form, but the 4th quarter shows that this defense is back to being a unit that gets worn down late in games like they did at the end of last season.
The Dreams of A Special Season Are Still Alive
The Tar Heels may have been eliminated from ACC Championship contention during pregame warmups, but this win means that the team still has plenty to play for. The Tar Heels sent Maye out with a win in what will likely be his final home game as the team’s quarterback and it keeps them in the hunt for just their second ten-win season since 1997. The goal that Maye stated back at ACC media days was to make it back to Charlotte, but reaching that ten-win milestone would still be a great way to send the greatest quarterback in program history out.
It’s OK to Storm the Field
Apparently, there is some anger about the students storming the field which is laughable, to say the least. This was the final home game of the season and the ending to this game was about as dramatic as it gets against a rival. It’s also worth pointing out that field storming isn’t what it once was as witnessed by what Colorado did early in the season. If you are offended by college kids storming a field after a dramatic win over their most hated rival, it’s time to unbunch the underwear that’s lodged between your buns.