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Campbell v North Carolina

by Sharon Thorsland

North Carolina and Duke face off on Saturday in a game that has conference implications. No, we’re not talking about basketball. Instead we’ve got a football game that matters, at least for the 24th-ranked Tar Heels. At 7-2 on the season, they’re trying to stay alive for a berth in the ACC Championship Game. Duke (6-3) is out of the running but would love nothing more than to ruin their arch rival’s shot at a title. Kick-off is set for 8:00 at Kenan Stadium.

This game features Duke’s outstanding defense against UNC’s potent offense. The Blue Devils are first in the ACC and tied for 7th nationally allowing under 16 points per game, and they’re giving up just 179 passing yards a contest. Star defensive tackle DeWayne Carter anchors the front line, fellow tackle Aeneas Peebles has three of the team’s 20 sacks. Linebacker Tre Freeman leads the team in tackles, while cornerback Myles Jones has three interceptions. They’ll face a UNC offense that ranks third in the country averaging over 518 yards per game behind quarterback Drake Maye, while sophomorerunning back Omarion Hampton has turned into a star, he’s ranked fourth in the nation averaging over 118 yards per game on the ground. The Blue Devils will also be looking to slow down receiver Tez Walker, who is one of UNC’s biggest playmakers with 438 yards on just 28 catches, six of them touchdowns – and he’s only played in five games!

The Blue Devils have their own outstanding quarterback in Riley Leonard, but the junior has been sidelined by ankle and toe injuries this season and won’t play in the this game. Backup Henry Belin is also injured, so it will be freshman Grayson Loftis under center. Loftis led Duke to a last second win over Wake Forest last week in his first career start, throwing for just 86 yards with one touchdown and one interception. So look for Duke to lean on its potent rushing attack that features the 1-2 punch of Jordan Waters and Jaquez Moore. Both have rushed for more than 480 yards this season and average a whopping 5.6 yards per carry. Waters is tied for the ACC lead with 10 rushing touchdowns, Moore has added four more. The Tar Heels have not been good against the run for as long as I can remember and are currently allowing 151 rushing yards per game. But UNC linebacker Cedric Gray has turned things up a notch this season with 85 tackles and will lead the way in trying to contain the Blue Devils.

This is the 109th matchup between these rivals that are separated by just eight miles. North Carolina is riding a four game win streak in the series, winning in a last second 38-35 shootout in Durham last year. To keep the Victory Bell in Chapel Hill for another season, they’ll have to get a strong defensive performance to match their high-powered offense. With Leonard on the sidelines, the odds are on UNC’s side. Plus it’s homecoming and senior night in Chapel Hill, and potentially the final home game for Maye, who is a projected top five NFL draft pick. Look for UNC to come out on top in this one. Go Tar Heels!