Sweet ‘Victory’ for Tar Heels|North Carolina beats Duke to keep Victory Bell

Published 8:24 am Sunday, November 28, 2010

By By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
DURHAM — Once again, the North Carolina-Duke game came down to a wacky finish. The final result was familiar, too — another victory for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina beat the Blue Devils for the 20th time in 21 years, holding them off 24-19 on Saturday behind 264 yards and a touchdown from T.J. Yates.
Anthony Elzy rushed for a career-high 116 yards, and he and Shaun Draughn each had short scoring runs for the Tar Heels (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who led 24-10 late before Duke (3-9, 1-7) made things interesting in the final 5 minutes.
‘‘It’s always like that when you play Duke. It’s always something about it,’’ North Carolina safety Deunta Williams said. ‘‘It’s going to be a tight game, and you’ve got to understand that, but you can’t let the calls or the bad breaks that you get kind of mess up how you’re feeling. You can’t let the momentum swing in a negative way for you. You’ve got to keep the prize at mind and go out there and play.’’
They stuffed Draughn in the end zone for a safety, pulled within five on Brandon Connette’s 2-yard touchdown run with 3:20 left, and forced a punt to get the ball back with 43 seconds left at the Duke 24.
But they couldn’t come up with a miracle finish: Austin Kelly caught Sean Renfree’s last pass near midfield, but he was wrapped up as time expired before he could find someone to take a lateral.
‘‘That’s kind of been the story all year, especially losing at the end there,’’ Renfree said.
Renfree was 24 of 39 for 242 yards with two interceptions and a 9-yard touchdown pass to Kelly for Duke, which ended its season with a three-game losing streak.
Yates was 28 of 35, reached the 9,000-yard passing mark for his career and threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Adams for the Tar Heels, who had four scoring drives of at least 80 yards and converted 65 percent of their third downs.
‘‘Third-down conversions were pretty much the whole tale of the entire game,’’ Duke safety Matt Daniels said. ‘‘The defense has got to learn how to get off the field.’’
North Carolina snapped a two-game losing streak and locked up its third straight winning season with the bowl destination still to be determined.
‘‘When people look back, 10, 15, 20 years from now, they’re going to look at this group of seniors and after the 4-8 season in 2007, these guys made Carolina football relevant,’’ coach Butch Davis said. ‘‘They made it important, and they made winning matter, every single season.’’
Elzy scored on a 5-yard run, surpassed the previous high of 95 yards he set three years ago against Miami and helped North Carolina keep hold of the Victory Bell traveling trophy that goes to the winner of this game.
The Tar Heels have won seven straight in the rivalry between schools located 8 miles apart, and bizarre finishes certainly aren’t anything new lately — even if they all seem to end with the same team on top.
In 2006, Duke nearly rallied from a late 14-point deficit by scoring two touchdowns in the final 5 minutes, but North Carolina blocked the tying extra point in a 45-44 win. The following year, the Tar Heels won the rivalry’s only overtime meeting when then-Duke coach Ted Roof was doused with a victory bath — moments before his team missed a field goal that would have won it in regulation.
‘‘With these guys, it’s always kind of annoying — they keep coming back, keep coming back,’’ Yates said with a smile, ‘‘but they’re a good team.’’
North Carolina rolled up a season-high 519 total yards against the ACC’s worst defense and held the Blue Devils to 12 yards rushing, and Yates became the first North Carolina quarterback to reach 9,000 yards passing for his career with a 14-yard toss to a diving Adams early in the second quarter.
‘‘A lot of the things that he does that help our offense, they don’t even put them on the stat sheet,’’ Davis said.
He later put the Tar Heels up 17-7 on their first possession after halftime, completing five consecutive passes during the 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with his touchdown toss about 5 minutes into the half.
Will Snyderwine’s 21-yard field goal pulled the Blue Devils to 17-10 before Yates led the Tar Heels 81 yards in 12 plays. His 35-yard strike to Dwight Jones on a third-and-8 set up Draughn’s 3-yard TD run that made it 24-10 with 11 1/2 minutes left and prematurely sent some fans to the exits.
Jones finished with 11 catches for 121 yards for North Carolina, while Yates was nearly perfect in the first half, completing 14 of 16 passes for 158 yards and leading a pair of long scoring drives. The Tar Heels scored on drives of 10 plays and 94 yards, and 16 plays and 87 yards.
Duke’s only points of the first half came Renfree’s short scoring pass to Kelly that put the Blue Devils up 7-0 with 6:19 left in the first quarter.
‘‘We played a good football team, certainly not a great football team,’’ Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. ‘‘We made them look, at times, like a great football team, and that was our doing and not theirs.’’