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Off the cuff: The Carolina football game at Duke should not have been as close as it was. I figure it should have been about 38-16. But Duke did pass the ball well and stayed in it with a rather flukey fumble return and a pair of field goals.

The UNC coaches made some bad decisions. For one, when it's fourth and four and the ball is lined up in the middle of the field, go for the 44-yard field goal rather than going on fourth down. If you are going to go for it, do it when the ball is set up on a hash mark, which gives college kickers a harsh angle. Instead, on the next drive, UNC decided to kick a field goal in a similar situation but the ball was on the far right hash mark and Casey Barth missed the 43-yarder. Later, on fourth and 10 with just 2:31 to go, coaches called a pass play and it was incomplete and thus stopped the clock. Had the Heels run the ball on fourth, Duke would have been forced to use its last timeout and may not have made the finish so interesting.

Still, it was a fairly solid victory as Carolina had 369 total yards on offense (190 passing and 179 rushing). While the Heels did give up 350 yards, the defense forced three straight three-and-outs during key moments of the second half.

In addition to the Nicks catch of the year, the other top highlighted effort may have been when Greg Little caught a short pass on third and seven in the fourth quarter and broke four tackles and dragged a defender another eight yards.

We won't know which bowl choses the Heels until probably Dec. 6 - my guess is the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.

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Tar Heels 28, Blue Devils 20
Yates, Nicks hook up for key TD reception

After looking bad in its two previous games, North Carolina's offense came back against rival Duke with a balanced attack highlighted by a 26-yard pass play from T.J. Yates to Hakeem Nicks on the way to a 28-20 regular season finale in Durham. (11/29)

Nicks, who set the UNC season passing record with more than 1,000 receiving yards, hauled in the pass and controlled it with one hand holding the ball against his helmet, giving Carolina its first lead of the game at 21-14.

The win marks the 18th time in 19 years that the Heels have defeated their rival Blue Devils and sends Carolina into a bowl game with an 8-4 record, after going 4-8 last season.

But it wasn't a easy victory and it wasn't a perfect performance. Nonetheless, UNC, which trailed 14-7 in the first quarter showed poise and determination after giving up a 36-yard touchdown on a returned fumble that UNC's Shaun Draughn couldn't handle.

Draughn had already scored on a four-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 7-7 and then he scored on a 16-yard screen pass play to tie it at 14-14.

In the second quarter, the Nicks reception capped an 80-yard touchdown drive to give the Heels that 21-14 lead, a lead that Carolina would never relinquish.

A pair of field goals, including a 55-yarder at the buzzer, drew Duke to within a point at 21-20 at the half.

Late in the third quarter, from the Duke 32, senior tight end Richard Quinn caught a short pass from Yates and rambled and twisted his way into the end zone for what would prove to be the sealing score which made it 28-20.

Twice, Carolina had an opportunity to extend the lead on drives deep into Duke territory but once the Heels failed on fourth down and then Casey Barth missed a 43-yard field goal.

The Carolina defense bent but didn't break as Duke drove, primarily via the pass, in the last two minutes of the game. On fourth down from the UNC 16 with less than 30 seconds to go, Trimane Goddard intercepted a Thaddeus Lewis pass to seal the victory.

"Character and integrity came out today," UNC coach Butch Davis said in light of the previous two defeats. ""It was not perfect but the effort was the way we want them to play."

Yates had a good game, going 15 of 19 for 190 yards and three touchdown passes. Draughn finished with 110 yards rushing in 29 attempts. Duke's Lewis finished 34-of-49 for 278 yards passing.

Duke ends the season at 4-8 and 1-7 in the ACC. Now the Tar Heels (8-4, 4-4) wait to see where they will play in a bowl.

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