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November 26, 2006

Wild game at Wallace Wade goes to UNC

It was only fitting that Duke's frustrating 0-12 season came down to a blocked extra point.

The Blue Devils might have won multiple games this year with an improved kicking game, but the final defeat of a winless season was sealed when Randy DeSmyter's extra point attempt to tie the game 45-45 couldn't get past the hand of North Carolina defensive end Kentwan Balmer.

While the ending of the 45-44 loss to the Tar Heels seemed all too familiar for Duke fans, all of the action preceding the final heartbreak was an offensive showcase that hasn't been seen in Wallace Wade Stadium in quite some time.

Both teams used some huge individual performances to ignite their offenses in one of college football's oldest rivalries.

Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis ended his promising freshman season with a career high four touchdown passes, three of which went to tight end/fullback Tielor Robinson, who cashed in big time to have only accounted for 11 receiving yards in the game.

With DeSmyter replacing kicker Joe Surgan, Duke jumped out to a 3-0 lead when the Blue Devils used their first possession to drive 52 yards in seven plays before being halted inside the 10-yard line.

After that seemingly pedestrian start, things started to turn really wild.

By the end of the first quarter, each team had counterpunched the other one but Carolina landed the biggest blow.

Trailing 10-7 following Lewis's first touchdown toss to Robinson, Carolina quarterback Joe Dailey struck through the air to freshman playmaker Hakeem Nicks, who scored on an 83-yard pass on a third-and-10 play from deep inside Tar Heel territory.

But the Blue Devils refused to lay down on multiple occasions.

Lewis tied the game with just under four minutes left in the first half when he threw 20 yards to tight end Nick Stefanow.

Following a rare defensive stop by either team, Lewis appeared to have given Duke all the momentum going to the locker room when he hit wideout Eron Riley for a 52-yard gain inside the Carolina 10-yard line.

That's when Duke surprised the Tar Heels by inserting running back and backup quarterback Clifford Harris in for Lewis. Harris finally got a chance to show his talented arm when he found Raphael Chestnut for a six yard scoring strike in the half's final seconds, but DeSmyter's kick was blocked, providing an eery foreshadowing into what was to come.

On a day when momentum changed frequently in the blink of an eye, Carolina return specialist Brandon Tate responded with the first of two huge plays that swung the game toward the Tar Heels.

Tate took the kickoff and raced 97 yards for a touchdown, giving Carolina a 24-23 halftime advantage in a first half that resembled more of a track meet.

The Blue Devils still had plenty of fight in them though, and after falling behind 31-23 on a Barrington Edwards touchdown run, Duke marched 80 yards behind the strength of some impressive Requan Boyette running.

A key third down scramble by Lewis set up first-and-goal when Lewis connected with Robinson for the second time. He repeated the trick on the ensuing two point try to bring the game back to even at 31-31 with 1:21 remaining in the third quarter.

That set the stage for one of the most eventful fourth quarters in Duke/Carolina history.

Tate got the fireworks started when he victimized Duke's vulnerable punt return team. The two teams traded punts following Duke's touchdown and two point conversion, but Tate returned the Blue Devil punt 54 yards for a touchdown and a 38-31 Carolina lead.

When Tar Heel backup running back Justin Warren broke free for a 45-yard touchdown to put Carolina up 45-31 with less than nine minutes remaining, things looked bleak for the Blue Devils.

Summoning one final push for victory though, Duke's offense and defense responded in the closing minutes to give the Blue Devils a chance to force overtime.

Lewis methodically worked the Blue Devils down the field, got the drive extended on a roughing the passer penalty, then found Jomar Wright for a 26-yard gain down to the four yard line.

From there, Robinson recorded a touchdown hat trick with his third of the game from Lewis to make the score 45-38.

With a little more than four minutes remaining, Duke kicked the ball deep and Carolina needed only to manage a couple of first downs to secure victory.

Facing a third-and-eight though following a Duke timeout, the Tar Heels elected to go to the air, which proved disastrous as Dailey's pass was intercepted by Duke rush end Patrick Bailey, who took the ball all the way home from 21 yards out to give the Devils what looked like the tying touchdown.

That's when Duke's kicking game woes returned in full force as DeSmyter's kick was rejected, and the offense couldn't get the ball back in the closing minutes.

The loss sent the Blue Devil senior class out with a winless season, but several of them played well in their final game.

Codey Lowe and Deonto McCormick both recovered fumbles, while Jeramy Edwards and Lowe also forced a fumble on the afternoon.

Cornerback John Talley's last Duke game ended without an interception, but the All-ACC player did have a pass breakup and a tackle for loss.

The Tar Heels closed the season 3-9, while Duke finished 0-12 with haunting near upsets of both the Tar Heels and Wake Forest.

Ironically, each of those games ultimately was decided by blocked kicks.


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