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BELL RUNG: Duke football hits new low against rival North Carolina

North Carolina dominated in pretty much every facet of the game.
North Carolina dominated in pretty much every facet of the game.

After every big play or score, North Carolina rang the Victory Bell for all of a fan-less Wallace Wade Stadium to hear.

North Carolina rang the Victory Bell a lot Saturday afternoon.

The Tar Heels steamrolled Duke 56-24 in the two programs’ 107th meeting, the 32-point margin of victory being the rivalry’s largest since North Carolina won 66-31 in 2015. In contrast, the four matchups between 2016 and 2019 were decided by a total of 21 points.

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell posted 235 yards and three scores through the air, totaling 35 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground as well. Running back Javonte Williams added 151 rushing yards and four total touchdowns of his own, as the Tar Heels dominated in pretty much every facet of the game.

"Obviously a very difficult time in the program," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. "As I told the players, when you get stunned, you see that look in people's eye, things get quiet. But there's two responses. One is to run from it and the other one is to run to it." 

The opening kickoff foreshadowed much of what was to come for the home team. Blue Devil kicker Jack Diggers booted the ball out of bounds to hand the Tar Heels generous field position at the 35-yard-line, with a 15-yard late hit penalty on freshman receiver Jontavis Robertson bringing North Carolina (5-2, 5-2 in the ACC) all the way to midfield before it had even snapped the ball.

Howell and the Tar Heel offense wasted no time driving inside the Blue Devil five-yard-line, though Duke (2-6, 1-6) did get an opportunity for a momentum-swinging defensive stop when North Carolina head coach Mack Brown kept his offense on the field on fourth-and-goal.

But Howell found a wide open Williams on play-action for possibly the most apathetic opening touchdown this rivalry will ever see. The Tar Heel sideline reaction made the fourth-down score seem like an expectation against a hopeless Blue Devil defense, and with no fans from either team in the stands the only sound you could hear in the stadium was the ringing Victory Bell. 

North Carolina’s offensive onslaught was far from over, however.

After an 82-second Duke three-and-out, the Tar Heel offense took over once again, taking only three plays—including a 51-yard sideline connection between Howell and sophomore wideout Emery Simmons down to the Blue Devil three-yard-line—to take a 14-0 lead by the 10:07 mark of the first quarter.

Eight minutes later, it was 21-0. Then 28-0. With each score, it sounded like the Duke PA announcer declared “North Carolina touchdown” quieter and quieter, but the Victory Bell kept on ringing loud and clear.

The Blue Devils finally got on the board in the middle of the second quarter with a 12-play drive that was the longest for either squad all afternoon, with sophomore receiver Eli Pancol taking a reverse handoff 22 yards for the touchdown to cap it off.

But North Carolina’s offense was relentless, notching two more scores before the end of the half to take a 42-10 lead into the break. The Tar Heels put up touchdowns on all six of their drives in the first half. It wasn’t until the 6:38 mark of the third quarter that a North Carolina drive didn’t end with seven points on the board.

"We got behind the eight ball, and when you go down 14-0 my my whole message was don't panic, don't pet it," Cutcliffe said. "We needed to respond on offense and we didn't get that done. So it gets a little bit tougher as the half moved on."

The second half began just as ominous as the first for the Blue Devils, with Deon Jackson fumbling the team's first play from scrimmage. Tar Heel star linebacker Chazz Surratt recovered, and three plays later Howell found senior Dazz Newcome in the end zone to take a 49-10 advantage.

Again, cue the Victory Bell.

Junior running back Mataeo Durant was the lone bright spot for Duke, totaling 132 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. The score marked Durant’s sixth touchdown of the year, and fourth run of 40-plus yards this season.

Chase Brice completed 11-of-23 passes for 155 yards and an interception, with Gunnar Holmberg coming in to replace him near the end of the third quarter. Holmberg finished seven-of-nine for 71 yards.

The Blue Devils have their second and final bye of the season this coming week, in which Cutcliffe will hope to regroup his squad before taking on Wake Forest at home Nov. 21.

"We've been able to turn things around when we've hit bottom in the past around here, and I'm convinced we will and can," Cutcliffe said. "It won't happen if you're negative. We all have to stay focused and positive and look within, not look for anybody else sharing any fault. It is all within each and every one of us as we move forward." 

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