Tar Heels fail to keep Duke’s Jones in check

The Herald-Sun (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JONATHAN M. ALEXAN­DER jalexan­der@new­sob­server.com Alexan­der, 919- 829- 4822; @jon­malexan­der

The vibe given off by North Carolina’s play­ers af­ter their 42-35 loss to Duke on Satur­day was a fa­mil­iar one.

They were dis­traught. They felt they let an­other game slip through their hands when the op­por­tu­nity was there for them to win. It was UNC’s fifth con­sec­u­tive loss by 10 points or less.

UNC se­nior line­backer Cole Hol­comb said he knows the Tar Heels are a few plays from win­ning. He said they just have to play well for a full game.

But when asked how they do that, Hol­comb shrugged and said, “I don’t have the an­swer to that yet.”

Even though the Tar Heels feel they are close to win­ning, the losses have not got­ten any eas­ier. UNC (1-8, 1- 6 ACC) has only two games re­main­ing on its sched­ule, un­less it adds a 12th game, and the op­por­tu­ni­ties to get at least one win be­come fewer.

“Any time you lose, no mat­ter it be two points or get­ting blown out, it’s tough,” UNC ju­nior safety Myles Dorn said. “I just hate it. What makes it worse is we’re just a few plays away.”

UNC coach Larry Fe­dora said Duke ( 7-3, 3-3 ACC) is a good team, and he was proud of his play­ers for fight­ing. He said he wasn’t wor­ried about their morale.

“They could have shut it down a long time ago,” he said. “They could have shut it down when y’all started talk­ing about they don’t have a bowl game, so why are they play­ing.

“But they’re not. They’re not go­ing to. That’s not who they are.”

BIG PER­FOR­MANCE FROM DUKE’S JONES

UNC’s de­fense wanted to put on a show against its ri­val Duke and win back the Vic­tory Bell, which had eluded it for the last two sea­sons.

UNC had both se­nior de­fen­sive end Ma­lik Car­ney and sopho­more de­fen­sive end Tomon Fox back from sus­pen­sions, and they were play­ing to­gether for the first time since the first week.

But it was Duke quar­ter­back Daniel Jones who had the star per­for­mance. His 547 yards of to­tal of­fense on Satur­day was a record for yards gained against a UNC de­fense, sur­pass­ing a record set by for­mer Louisville star La­mar Jack­son, who had 525 yards in Septem­ber 2017.

UNC got Jones in thir­dand-long sit­u­a­tions, but he con­tin­ued to con­vert them. Duke fin­ished the game 13-for-20 on third downs.

The Tar Heels’ se­condary was down to its fourth- and fifth-string cor­ner­backs, and Jones took ad­van­tage. He had three passes that went for 30 yards or more and two runs that went for 60 yards or more.

“He’s a re­ally good player, and he did some un­be­liev­able things to­day with his arm and his legs,” Fe­dora said. “Al­ways when you have a sit­u­a­tion like that and you’ve got guys in cov­er­age where their eyes aren’t on the quar­ter­back and some­body gets out of the gap and he finds it, he can make you pay and that’s what he did to­day.”

Penal­ties also hurt the Tar Heels and kept the Blue Devils on the field. UNC had 10 penal­ties for 115 yards, which was more than it had in its pre­vi­ous three games com­bined.

CADE FORTIN RE­TURNS

The Tar Heels started the game hot on of­fense and slow on de­fense. They had 370 yards of to­tal of­fense, in­clud­ing 272 rush­ing yards in the first half. The Tar Heels fin­ished with a sea­son­high 315 rush­ing yards. UNC sopho­more Michael Carter led the way with 148 yards. Ju­nior run­ning back An­to­nio Wil­liams had 26 yards, but got in­jured in the first half and did not re­turn.

But in the sec­ond half, as they be­gan to strug­gle, they seemed to go away from the run­ning game and be­gan to pass more.

UNC ju­nior quar­ter­back Nathan El­liott strug­gled to get the ball down field un­til late in the fourth quar­ter. He was 22-for- 41 for 221 yards and one touch­down.

UNC man­aged to move the ball in Duke ter­ri­tory with one last shot to tie the score and send it to over­time. Fe­dora put in his fresh­man quar­ter­back Cade Fortin – who had not played all game – to throw the fi­nal Hail Mary pass from the Duke 39yard line with six sec­onds re­main­ing. But his throw was bat­ted down at the goal line by a Duke de­fender.

Af­ter the game, Fe­dora said he did not play Fortin be­cause he felt El­liott gave them the best chance to win. Fortin in­jured his knee in UNC’s Oct. 13 game against Vir­ginia Tech and had not played since. He wore a knee brace on Satur­day.

“In that in­stance, he’s got an ex­tremely strong arm, and we knew he could at least move around enough to get the ball down field for us,” Fe­dora said.

It’s un­clear whether Fortin will be healthy enough to play go­ing for­ward. UNC will play Western Carolina (3- 6) next week.

As the play­ers left the locker room, they greeted their par­ents and friends out­side. Af­ter a few min­utes with them, they left on a bus back to Chapel Hill, hop­ing next week will fi­nally be dif­fer­ent.

CHUCK LIDDY cliddy@new­sob­server.com

Duke quar­ter­back Daniel Jones is chased by UNC cor­ner­back C.J. Cot­man in the third quar­ter as he sets up the Blue Devils fi­nal touch­down on a long run from mid­field.

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