Unlike in their previous two losses, when they fell too far behind the Demon Deacons and Cardinals to catch up, the Tar Heels were able to overcome an early deficit against the Duke Blue Devils, thanks to a heads-up play by running back Giovani Bernard in the fourth quarter.
Bernard picked up a teammate's fumble at Duke's 4-yard line and ran it in for a go-ahead touchdown with just over three minutes left in the game.
But they weren't able to seal the deal when the defense couldn't stop the Blue Devils on the ensuing drive.
When Duke scored on a fourth-down play from North Carolina's 5-yard line with just 13 seconds remaining, the Tar Heels were faced with a 33-30 loss.
A short kickoff return and two completions later, the second of which fizzled out with a series of laterals that ended with a fumble, and the defeat was a reality.
As the Blue Devils celebrated their first win over the Heels since 2003 and their sixth victory of the season, the Heels trudged off with their third loss in eight games and second in four ACC outings.
Their comeback from a 23-9 deficit entering the final quarter was no salve for the pain of defeat.
"I want them to remember what this feels like," coach Larry Fedora said of his players. "I want them to know. I want this feeling to last all night, you know, and it'll last until we put it to bed tomorrow and put it behind us.
"I want them to know what it feels like. I want there to be some misery right now. It better mean that much to you."
WHAT'S AHEAD: North Carolina gets back home for three of its last four games, starting with a visit from North Carolina State. The Tar Heels haven't beaten their neighboring rival since 2006, when a 23-9 win in Chapel Hill extended their winning streak in the series to three in a row. The Tar Heels have an open date after that followed by a trip to Georgia Tech and home games against Virginia and Maryland to wrap up the season. The Tar Heels are not eligible for a bowl because of NCAA sanctions.
After being penalized 30 times in their previous two games combined, the Tar Heels were penalized only twice against Duke, but the timing was critical. LB Kevin Reddick was called for roughing the passer in the first quarter, nullifying an interception by teammate SS Darien Rankin. Given new life, the Blue Devils went on to score their first touchdown for a 7-3 lead.
The loss to the Blue Devils snapped an eight-game winning streak for the Tar Heels in the Duke series. It's only the second loss for the Heels in the last 23 meetings with the Blue Devils.
The loss also was the first for North Carolina in Durham since a 35-29 setback to the Blue Devils in 1988.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Redshirt freshman SS Darien Rankin was in on seven tackles against Duke and credited with breaking up one pass. He had an interception nullified by a penalty.
LOOKING GOOD: Sophomore RB Giovani Bernard ran for 143 yards on 24 carries, his third consecutive 100-yard plus rushing game. He now has 2,048 yards rushing in his career, No. 11 all-time in school history. Having missed two games to a knee injury, Bernard is averaging 132.5 yards rushing in six outings.
STILL NEEDS WORK: North Carolina's run defense was shredded for 234 yards by a Duke team that was averaging only 111 yards a game on the ground through its first seven games. The Tar Heels had been holding opponents to under 100 yards rushing a game.
PLAYER NOTES: Sophomore TE Eric Ebron had five catches for 68 yards against Duke, giving him 467 yards for the season, a school record in receiving yardage by a tight end. The previous best was 448 by Mike Chatham in 1979.
Junior QB Bryn Renner was 19-of-32 passing for 198 yards, moving him into third place in the school record book for passing yards with 5,128.
Senior PK Casey Barth continues to extend his school record for field goals by going 3-of-3 against Duke, the first time he has had three field goals in a game since kicking four against North Carolina State in 2010. He now has 64 in his career.
Junior QB Bryn Renner missed two plays after getting hit while scrambling on North Carolina's first series against Duke. He returned to complete the drive.
Redshirt freshman QB Marquise Williams was in for the plays Renner was out. He ran for one yard on his first play, then connected with RB Giovani Bernard for a 39-yard gain on the second to help get the Tar Heels in position for a field goal.
Senior LG Jonathan Cooper made his 43rd career start, most of any active linemen in the ACC.