November 7, 2009

Heels ride Houston to victory against Blue Devils

CHAPEL HILL - Before the final seconds had even ticked off the clock, North Carolina senior defensive end E.J. Wilson was sprinting the length of the field so he could be the first to ride the Victory Bell.

But it was another large man's running ability that helped the Tar Heels retain the trophy in a 19-6 win against Duke.

Tailback Ryan Houston, filling in for an injured Shaun Draughn rushed for a career-high 164 yards, while Carolina's defense kept one of the nation's top-passing offenses out of the end zone for the first time all season.

It was a win that both teams needed to keep momentum going, UNC following a big win at Virginia Tech, and the Blue Devils coming to Kenan Stadium riding a three-game win streak.

"The one thing that this team did do tonight is that they fought," UNC coach Butch Davis said.

Neither offense was great, but four field goals from Casey Barth and a fourth-quarter touchdown run from freshman receiver Jheranie Boyd were plenty to beat a Duke offense that Carolina limited to 125 yards of total offense.

Duke came into the game averaging 2 times that in the passing game alone, fifth best in the country.

"Duke whooped and hollered and raved about how they were so disciplined, we just tried to outplay them," defensive tackle Cam Thomas said. "You see the results. We just played defense the way we know how to play."

The Blue Devils (5-4, 3-2 in the ACC) had just 12 yards rushing, and aside from two long runs by Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, the rushing totals were 17 carries for minus-21 yards.

Squashing the run made it that much easier for Carolina (6-3, 2-3) to focus on defending the pass.

The result was a harder time getting open for the receivers and more pressure on Lewis, who managed just 113 yards passing with an interception and was sacked three times by UNC defensive end Robert Quinn.

"When I'm on the field, I'm like the Hulk when he turns green," said the soft-spoken Quinn.

If Quinn is the Hulk, it's a perfect complementary nickname to Houston's, which is "Rhino," according to quarterback T.J. Yates.

After Carolina lost Draughn to a shoulder injury on the first play of the game, Houston, normally the goal-line and short-yardage specialist, took over the full workload.

"Getting the ball on first-and-10 is different than getting the ball on third-and-short," Houston said. "Third-and-short, you're just trying to hit the hole. First-and-10, you're trying to make a play."

Houston's play-making was a big reason that UNC had 17 more minutes of possession than Duke, and his rushing total was the highest by a Carolina back since Chad Scott had 175 yards against Miami in 2004.

"We rode the Rhino train all night long," Yates said.

That, in turn, led to a fresher UNC defense - one ready to make big plays when Carolina needed them most.

When Duke blocked a punt and started a possession at the UNC 30-yard line, the Tar Heels held the Blue Devils to a short field goal.

When Yates had a pass tipped and intercepted, Carolina answered with an interception of Lewis by Charles Brown, who brought it back 54 yards into Duke territory to set up a field goal.

And when Duke went for it on fourth-and-4 at the UNC 35-yard line in the fourth quarter, cornerback Kendric Burney broke up the pass to get the ball back.

After that, it was all aboard the Rhino train one more time.

Carolina gave Houston the ball on 10 of the next 11 plays to eat up six crucial minutes of clock on the way to a 3-yard touchdown run for Boyd.

Houston's rushing total on that drive alone - 55 yards - would have made for the fourth-highest game total of his career.

Plus, he threw the lead block on Boyd's touchdown.

"Ryan basically carried us through that drive," Boyd said.

Depending on the severity of Draughn's injury, that might become a theme for Carolina's offense. The Tar Heels know their defense is good enough to play like this every week, and Houston is confident he can withstand more workloads like the 37-carry effort he had against the Blue Devils.

"I want 40 now," Houston said with a smile. "And a touchdown."



 

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