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November 29, 2008

Playing for Paschal

DURHAM, N.C. - Just days before North Carolina's regular-season finale, senior linebacker Mark Paschal found out a neck injury meant the end of his season and career, so fellow senior Trimane Goddard made him a promise.

The safety told his good friend that he would make a big play for the Tar Heels since Paschal couldn't.

Goddard followed through on that vow when he intercepted Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis in the final seconds to preserve UNC's 28-20 win over the rival Blue Devils.

"I hate he had to miss this game," Goddard said.

But Paschal, like several other seniors, got his chance to ride and ring the Victory Bell, which Carolina (8-4, 4-4 in the ACC) has maintained control of for 18 of the last 19 years.

It was the Tar Heels' 10th consecutive win against Duke (4-8, 1-7) at Wallace Wade Stadium and the perfect way to bounce back from two consecutive losses, including the Heels' worst defeat of the season a week earlier.

"Clearly there wasn't any quit in this football team," UNC coach Butch Davis said. "There were a lot of players playing this game for their appreciation of Mark."

UNC quarterback T.J. Yates looked like his old self after struggling against N.C. State in his first start back from injury.

Yates was 15 for 19 passing for 190 yards and three touchdowns.

Aside from an early interception, he was extremely sharp, completing the other 14 of his first 15 passes.

"He was right in synch with everything," said Greg Little, who had a career-high 67 receiving yards.

Junior receiver Hakeem Nicks benefited from Yates' increased comfort level and used it to finish rewriting a good portion of the UNC record book.

Nicks tied Carolina's single-season record for receiving touchdowns (nine) and broke Sam Aiken's career receiving yards record when he caught a 25-yard touchdown from Yates in the second quarter.

And on the second play of the second half, Nicks made another grab that made him the first 1,000-yard receiver in Carolina history.

"It feels real good," Nicks said of the achievement. "That's a goal I've been trying to reach since my freshman year."

It wasn't just the UNC air attack that beat the Blue Devils, though.

Tailback Shaun Draughn rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown while getting help on the ground from Little (42 yards) and Ryan Houston (25 yards). Draughn also caught a touchdown in the first quarter.

The Tar Heels' 21 points in the first half were more than they scored in either of the last two games.

During that two-game losing streak, the Heels were 4 for 22 on third downs, while they were 11 for 16 against the Blue Devils, including a perfect 7 for 7 in the first half.

In fact, the only real offensive problems for the Tar Heels were the times they never even got to third down.

Twice in the first half, UNC turned the ball over on the first play of a possession.

In addition to Yates' interception early in the second quarter, there was a first-quarter fumble by Draughn that Duke linebacker Vincent Rey picked up and ran in 36 yards for a touchdown.

"I thought we did a really good job of forgetting about (the turnovers) and moving on," Yates said.

The Tar Heels' defense was equally impressive after also suffering from an inauspicious start.

Duke went no-huddle on its opening drive and quickly marched 63 yards in less than two minutes to an 8-yard touchdown strike from Lewis to Eron Riley.

"The tempo got us a bit," Davis said.

But after that, the UNC defense hunkered down and held the Blue Devils to a pair of field goals the rest of the game.

Still, there was the familiar threat at the end of a team overcoming its deficit against UNC in the final two minutes.

That awful feeling of déjà vu wasn't lost on Goddard, and it couldn't have been more appropriate that he was the guy to snag the game-saving interception. It was his seventh of the season, which leads the team, and his second game-clincher in the Tar Heels' eight wins.

And best of all, he got to do it for a friend.


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