CHAPEL HILL--- The game had all the makings of another classic UNC-Duke rivalry showdown, with both teams posting over 400 offensive yards and the action coming down to the final minute.
North Carolina had the ball with a chance to win with a field goal, but a late interception of Marquise Williams enabled Duke to run out the clock and get a 27-25 victory over the Tar Heels.
With the win, Duke has reached 10 victories in a single season for the first time in school history, and will head to Charlotte next week as the champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division in a showdown with National Championship contender Florida State.
The Blue Devils (10-2, 6-2 ACC) also have won twice in a row over its arch-rivals from Chapel Hill for the first time since the 1988-1989 seasons, when Steve Spurrier was coaching Duke.
"First of all, I want to congratulate Duke and their staff on a win and a hard-fought game," said UNC head coach Larry Fedora immediately after the game. "I'm disappointed for our seniors that played in Kenan and the Tar Pit for the last time. We didn't get to send them out the right way, but we didn't play well enough to win a football game."
UNC watches its five-game winning streak come to an end and the Victory Bell return to Durham for another year, while the Tar Heels fall to 6-6 overall and 4-4 in ACC play.
They'll now await next week's conference championship games and for the postseason bowl dominoes to fall where they may so they can find out who they'll play in a late December bowl game.
And while losing for a second straight year to Duke leaves 'a bad taste in their mouths,' in Fedora's words, at least they will have another game to try and make amends and finish this up-and-down 2013 season with a winning record.
"It (getting to play in a bowl) will (make us feel better) tomorrow," said Fedora. "But today, you're awfully disappointed for these seniors and this football team that we didn't play better. But yes, we'll be extremely happy that we've got another game and we've got an opportunity to wash this taste out of our mouth and finish the year the way we want to finish it."
Things started out well enough for UNC, as Williams scored the game's first touchdown on a short one-yard rumble less than seven minutes in following a brilliant 79-yard catch and run by Eric Ebron, the junior tight end playing in his final game at Kenan Stadium. Ebron was recognized before the game along with the other departing Tar Heels in a jersey ceremony.
Duke countered with a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Anthony Boone to standout wide receiver Jamison Crowder, tying the game at 7-7 heading into the second quarter.
Ross Martin gave Duke a 10-7 advantage midway through the second period with a 22-yard field goal, but the Tar Heels answered with a second Williams one-yard touchdown burst, again giving UNC the lead with just 1:30 remaining before halftime, and a subsequent two-point conversion, making the score 15-10 in favor of UNC.
But Duke, who has found different ways this fall to win, found another way as DeVon Edwards raced 99 yards on the ensuing kickoff for a Blue Devils touchdown, making the score 17-15 heading into halftime.
The Devils added to its lead in the first three minutes of the second half, as Boone climaxed a 50-yard scoring march with a second touchdown pass to Crowder, this one covering seven yards.
Trailing 24-15, UNC needed nearly seven minutes to answer, but Williams threw his first and only touchdown pass of the afternoon---a 23-yarder to Quinshad Davis---and the Tar Heels pulled within 24-22 by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
Though they gave up 461 total offensive yards to Duke, UNC's defense played dramatically improved football in the second half, and after yet another defensive stop, the Tar Heels re-claimed the lead for the first time since the first quarter on a 37-yard field goal by Thomas Moore with 7:03 to go.
But the resilient Blue Devils once again found a way, going 66 yards over the next four minutes and 41 seconds before Martin connected on his second field goal, a 27-yarder, to make the score 27-25 with just 2:22 to go.
UNC had the ball and moved up to the Duke 49 following a successful fourth-down scramble by Williams, but after an incompletion to Ryan Switzer, Williams was pressured on second down and was intercepted by Edwards, who sealed Duke's victory with the grab.
Duke did what it had to do in terms of making the necessary plays to win, converting eight of 15 third down conversions over the course of the game, but UNC certainly helped them out with two interceptions and nine penalties for 85 yards, including some costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that potentially cost them valuable field position and points.
"You know, they (Duke) are going to be sound, and when you have nine penalties and you miss a field goal and you drop a touchdown pass and you drop two interceptions, they're going to win a football game. And that's what happened today. So give them credit," said Fedora.
"The first (penalty of the day for UNC), guy (Travis Hughes) lost his head. He got beat in coverage (on Duke's first touchdown to Crowder) and then made it worse. The second (unsportsmanlike penalty on Russell Bodine in the second half) I don't know. I didn't see the thing. I just saw it on the screen so I don't know what happened there. There was no whistle on the play---I'm not sure the offensive linemen know when the play was over with---but it doesn't matter."
"We weren't making any plays on defense," Fedora added when talking about Duke's third down success. "If they're converting third downs, we didn't get to the quarterback and they did a great job in their (pass) protection, and receivers were getting open. That was a problem for us throughout the day, especially the first half."
While there were plenty of things to criticize from UNC's performance over the game's first 59 minutes, many fans will walk away from this game especially critical of Carolina's time management on its final possession, as they let the clock run down to the point where after Duke's final interception, UNC couldn't stop the clock with timeouts to get another chance because there was only 13 seconds left.
"I mean, we had two minutes and two timeouts (when we started the last drive). We weren't worried about the clock," Fedora replied. "That wasn't going to be an issue for us. It was going to be making sure we picked up first downs."
UNC did that, moving just into Duke territory near midfield, but left itself precious little time to do anything on those fateful final plays.
"That last play (the interception play), he's going to hit him (a UNC teammate) for a big gain and he (Williams) gets hit. So I mean, we had what we wanted in the coverage and had the guy wide open and we just didn't make the play."
And with that comes another bitter taste for the Tar Heels and another stunning loss to Duke. And though there will be more football for the 2013 North Carolina football team, they'll have to wait twelve more months before they get another chance to return the Victory Bell to Chapel Hill.