CHAPEL HILL — So how bizarre was that?
Carolina defeated Duke on a play that defied common sense, after a series of UNC screwups that somehow kept the Blue Devils in a game they had no business being in. And then things got ugly in the end zone.
Carolina's 20-17 win over Duke was secured on a botched jump-pass attempt by a running back that was intercepted in the end zone after a series of strange occurrences on the day the ACC Coastal Division collapsed into a pile of rubble.
Here’s my view of redshirt junior LB Chazz Surratt’s interception w/ 14 secs left that won the game for the Tar Heels.— Parth Upadhyaya (@pupadhyaya_) October 26, 2019
UNC beat Duke, 20-17, for the first time since 2015. pic.twitter.com/uOo1l6fwQq
Mack Brown is now the winningest coach in UNC history, and the Tar Heels are tied for the division lead.
And David Cutcliffe has some explaining to do.
Duke and Carolina have had emotional games, leaving worn emotions and locker room damage that required statements and checks written from one to the other. This one brought out the worst in some, including some who should know better.
Carolina’s players ran toward the visitors seated in the corner of the stands after the final seconds ticked off, and there was a scuffle of sorts as the Victory Bell was carted away from the Duke sideline and officials from both teams found themselves in the middle of confusion.
Bad blood after the final whistle. pic.twitter.com/IawixTWyoV— Josh Graham (@JoshGrahamRadio) October 26, 2019
UNC tackle Jordan Tucker seemed to linger the longest, taunting Duke fans and drawing the ire of Cutcliffe, who is seen on video pushing Tucker back toward the field.
It was a bad look on both sides.
Brown said he knew nothing of the confrontation. Cutcliffe said in a terse and tense postgame setting with reporters that lasted less than three minutes that he was just trying to get people separated.
“I was trying to get people to get back to where they belong,” he said. “Too many staff over there that aren’t our staff. I can’t tell you what happened because I didn’t see what happened. I don’t care for those circumstances.”
It was all about the Victory Bell, and then it wasn’t.
That was fitting. Duke was about to win the game, and then it didn’t. Carolina had chances to clinch the game but couldn’t. It ended on a desperate and crazy-looking play that the Tar Heels were waiting for.
Duke was out of time outs and had just come out of long stop in play while officials sorted out a pass interference penalty on UNC that gave the Blue Devils the ball on the UNC 2 with 18 seconds to play.
Brown said Carolina defensive coordinator Jay Bateman told the players to watch for the jump pass, the quick free-throw looking play popularized by Tim Tebow. The play unfolded without much form for Duke. Deon Jackson, the Blue Devils’ halfback, took a pitch and ran toward the line, jumping and tossing a weak overhead pass that hit UNC linebacker Chazz Surratt in the stomach.
The interception ended the game and started the postgame histrionics.
Carolina hadn’t beaten Duke in four years, most of the players having never seen the bell that goes to the winning team in a series that began in 1888.
Brown said the emotions spilled over throughout the game, particularly in a wild last drive that saw both teams self-destruct on the way to the wild ending.
Carolina went from almost clinching the game before fumbling and then having to endure the end.
“I thought we would score and go up by 10 and I thought the game would be over at that point,” Brown said. “And they had another oh-my-gosh moment when they drove right down the field. And then we had a chance to stop them on fourth, and they make it, and then we stop them on fourth and get a face-mask call and then we have a penalty in the end zone.”
That summed up the evening, which summed up the Coastal Division chaos that will get even more fun next week when Virginia comes to Chapel Hill.
By then, the bell will be painted light blue and the league will have made some sort of statement or something on what happened in the end zone, but little else will have changed.
Carolina is pretty good, but that’s about it. Duke is pretty good, but not really. The entire division opposite Clemson is in disarray because all the teams except Georgia Tech are pretty good and simply can’t get away from each other.
The close quarters and the wild finishes have made UNC into what Brown called “TV darlings.”
The light-blue darlings are about one jump pass from staying home for the holidays. But they survived to play another Saturday against another division rival with a conference championship game berth awaiting the last pretty good team standing.
And then a lousy bowl game.
UNC will take it, though.
The win was flawed and fortunate and fomented in the minds of the neighbors. This was a game to forget, but neither Duke nor Carolina will likely do so. You get the impression that the video from this one will live on in infamy.