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November 24, 2007

Little leads way in overtime win vs. Blue Devils

CHAPEL HILL - Two simple words from Kentwan Balmer to Greg Little said it all.


Balmer embraced his North Carolina teammate near midfield, looked into his eyes, and said, "Thank you."

That's because even though it was Senior Day - Balmer's day - it was Little, a freshman, who pushed the Tar Heels to a 20-14 overtime victory against Duke.

Little ran for a 25-yard touchdown on UNC's first overtime play - after the Blue Devils had missed a 40-yard field goal on their possession - to give the Tar Heels the victory.

"We couldn't have done it without him," Balmer said.

Nothing was working offensively for Carolina until the coaches decided to rely almost entirely on Little in the fourth quarter.

He finished with 154 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns, becoming the first Carolina player this year to notch a 100-yard rushing game.

That prevented UNC from going without an individual 100-yard rushing performance in a season for the first time since 1966.

And the aftermath of Little's final run of the day almost got him planted in the East end zone of Kenan Stadium.

"I knew the guys were all going to jump on me," Little said. "I was like, 'Yeah! Yeah!' but then more guys came and I felt myself sinking into the ground. It started to hurt."

Probably not as much as a loss to the Blue Devils would have. North Carolina has now won 17 of its last 18 meetings with Duke, which had a chance to win the game in regulation.

As time expired, freshman kicker Nick Maggio missed a 39-yard field goal attempt wide left, nearly identical to the miss junior Joe Surgan would have from a yard farther away in overtime.

Several Duke players, who apparently thought the fourth-quarter kick was good, doused coach Ted Roof with the contents of a water cooler in celebration.

"He's dry by now, right?" UNC senior defensive end Hilee Taylor quipped after the game.

Little was called for a taunting penalty earlier in the game and got an earful from coach Butch Davis on the sideline.

Shortly after that, the freshman approached Davis and apologized, telling Davis that if he gave him another chance he would do whatever he could to help the Tar Heels win.

"Don't you love it when guys deliver on their promises?" Davis said.

Little even requested the game-winning play - called 36 Power - from UNC offensive line coach Sam Pittman at the start of overtime.

"I really just wanted the ball in my hands, but I also wanted that specific play," Little said. "It had been working all game."

Not much besides Little's running had been working for the Tar Heels, who had just 127 yards of total offense at the end of the third quarter.

Each team scored a touchdown on its opening drive of the game only to go the rest of the half and well beyond without putting any points up.

Carolina got its score on a nine-yard pass from T.J. Yates to Brandon Tate, and Duke answered with a 25-yard strike from Thaddeus Lewis to Jomar Wright.

"At the beginning of the game, I thought it was going to be a shootout," Yates said.

But the next time the scoreboard changed was when Lewis hit Wright again, this time for a four-yard score that put the Blue Devils up 14-7 a minute into the fourth quarter.

The play capped an 88-yard scoring drive that lasted more than seven minutes and included three third-down conversions.

The Tar Heels couldn't match that until putting together a nine-play, 72-yard drive - made up entirely of running plays - that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run by Little to tie the score at 14 with 7:09 to go in the game.

Outside of having sophomore Hakeem Nicks break the school record for single-season receptions, there wasn't much positive about UNC's passing game.

"We were trying to throw the ball more in the first half," said Yates, who had just 75 yards passing and a pair of interceptions. "It worked well on the first drive, then it stalled out."

Were it not for Little's emergence, Balmer, Taylor and the rest of the seniors might not have had much to be thankful for.

"I wanted to play hard for them," Little said. "It ends the season on a positive note."


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