It’s not every day that you say there are highs related to the Duke football team. But in 2012, there are plenty of highs.
On Saturday night at home against rival North Carolina for the 99th career meeting, Duke became bowl eligible for the first time since 1994, as they beat the Tarheels, 33-30. It was the first time the Blue Devils had beaten their rivals since 2003 and first time in Durham since 1988.
Second place in the ACC’s Coastal Division was on the line as UNC traveled the short distance to Duke.
It was all Duke during the first half, as they led 20-6 at the half. The game was eerily similar to last week’s loss to Virginia Tech: complete dominance by the Blue Devils early and then it was all VT.
Then came the second half comeback by the Tarheels.
With a little more than three minutes to play, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner completed a pass to Erik Hightsmith. At the four yard line, Hightsmith fumbled. However UNC running back Giovani Bernard picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown. That gave the Tarheels the 30-26 lead.
You could hear a pin drop in Durham, as the Blue Devils fans were shocked.
But the Duke players were not rattled. In their longest drive of the season, quarterback Sean Renfree led the Blue Devils back down the field. On 4th and two with 13 seconds to go, Renfree connected with Jamison Crowder for the go ahead touchdown. Crowder was surrounded by Tarheels in the end zone, but was still able to corral the pass.
That set off a celebration in the stands and 13 seconds later, the Duke players were ringing the bell.
Renfree finished the game completing 23 of 36 passes for 275 yards and the one TD pass. He did throw an interception. Crowder finished with just five catches for 41 yards. But that one catch was the game winner.
The ACC leading receiver, Conner Vernon, caught six catches for 123 yards. Desmond Scott added three catches for 38 yards.
The Blue Devils rushed for a season-high 235 yards. Juwan Thompson carried the ball 11 times for 64 yards. Jela Duncan ran for a first half touchdown and finished with 75 yards (on 22 carries). Josh Snead rushed for 99 yards on 15 carries.
Bernard for UNC, their best player, finished with 24 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown. He also caught five passes for 68 yards.
Next up for Duke, they travel to Tallahassee to face Florida State next Saturday afternoon.
*As of me typing this, first place Miami was losing to FSU in the fourth quarter. If the Hurricanes were to lose, they would drop behind Duke in the Coastal Division. Meaning, Duke would be in first place at 3-1.