Tobacco Road showdown Saturday

It is not about a bell or a heated rivalry, or even the embarrassment of finishing in last place in the ACC. The 2003 Duke-North Carolina football game is about an inflatable Blue Devil helmet.

 The seemingly innocent Wallace Wade fixture became a major part of the next chapter of the Tobacco Road rivalry after Tar Heel Dan Orner kicked a weak and wobbly 47-yard field goal as time expired in last year's clash of organizations, giving North Carolina a 23-21 win. After the boot, Orner--who had missed two other field goals and a point-after-attempt earlier in the game--gleefully pranced directly into the inflatable face-mask and danced around until it completely deflated.

 "We can take that personally, because we're allowed to," All-ACC linebacker candidate Ryan Fowler said. "I can picture [Orner's celebration] in my head. We're going to end that losing streak and avenge what happened last year."

 Duke (3-8, 1-6 in the ACC), who has not defeated UNC since 1989, will have its best chance at downing its cross-town rivals since Steve Spurrier skippered the Blue Devils. Case in point: North Carolina (2-9, 1-6) is averaging a reasonable 26.8 points per game, but is giving up a ridiculous 39 points per game defensively. The Tar Heels allow 288 passing yards a contest and an ACC worst 224.5 rushing yards.

 "There are obviously a number of things that go into playing great run defense and I have talked about it before," North Carolina head coach John Bunting said. "We have just not executed well."

 While Duke passes for the second least yards in the soon-to-be expanding league, the Blue Devil run-attack could be too much for North Carolina to handle. Four of the five members on Duke's impressive offensive line will playing in the last game of their college careers, an extra motivation that could prove analogous to giving Red Bull to a hyper child.

 Senior running back Chris Douglas and senior fullback Alex Wade will be maneuvering behind the powerful front for interim head coach Ted Roof, two players with all-conference talent. Douglas has rushed for over 100-yards in three of the four game's Roof coached this season, and Wade will be making an emotional return from a hamstring injury that has plagued him all season.

 The 2002 team MVP, Wade ran for 979-yards in 2002 before the injury bug hit this season. After sitting out the last four games, Wade looks to end his sour season on a sunny note.

 "Yes he will [play Saturday]," Roof said. "He'll add another dimension to our football team. He's been great...I've been really proud how he's handled himself [through the injury]."

 Defensively, the Blue Devils will have their hands full with a talented North Carolina offense. Athletic and strong, veteran quarterback Darian Durant throws for 247.5 yards per game to a balanced receiving corps. Roof has especially been impressed with freshman wide receiver Mike Mason.

 "Mason is a blur," Roof said in regards to his speed. The Tar Heels also field a balanced ground attack, using five runners constantly for their 156.3 rushing yards per game.

 In addition to the stakes the rivalry creates for Saturday, Fowler is looking to make ACC history by becoming the first player to lead his team in tackles for four consecutive years. The Florida native has 10 fewer tackles than Duke safety Terrell Smith going into the game. But in the end, the only numbers that matter to the Blue Devils Saturday are the ones that make up the final score.

 "It's our last game in a Blue Devils jersey," Douglas said. "It's going to mean a lot. It's a rivalry game...they're going to come out like it's the Super Bowl, just like we are. We haven't had the Victory Bell since '89. I think [getting the bell] is something we can do for this university."


Share and discuss “Tobacco Road showdown Saturday” on social media.