CHAPEL HILL – Ronald Curry needed this and so did his teammates.
Although one home game still remains on North Carolina's schedule, Curry turned Senior Day into his best performance of the season as the Tar Heels bombed rival and hapless Duke, 52-17, before a crowd of 52,000 at Kenan Stadium.
Curry completed 11 of 19 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns while displaying the many skills that made him the nation's most coveted high school quarterback four years ago.
"I think (Curry) had an excellent game," fellow senior Kory Bailey said. "He picked up the blitzes really well, he threw the ball really well and, on the run plays, he ran really well."
Curry found Sam Aiken (seven receptions for 156 yards and two scores) for a 72-yard score on Carolina's second possession to give the Heels a quick 7-0 lead with 7:52 left in the first quarter. On the play Curry became UNC's all-time leading passer, eclipsing Jason Stanicek's career mark of 4,683 yards.
"I love being around Ronald Curry," UNC head coach John Bunting said. "He's a special guy, and a very talented athlete. He's done an awful lot for this university; I'm very happy to see him close out his ACC career with a big win."
Redshirt freshman Darian Durant also had a nice day and helped give the Heels a 14-0 advantage after hooking up with Bosley Allen (four receptions for 74 yards) for a 15-yard score with 4:43 left in the first quarter.
Durant (11-17, 151 yards and a score) also led scoring drives of 59 and 68 yards leading to 10 points, but this was Senior Day and Curry, a senior, ended his career against Atlantic Coast Conference teams in style.
Curry re-entered the game on UNC's second possession of the second half and UNC leading by just seven.
The Blue Devils (0-10, 0-7 ACC) had trimmed what was a 21-7 deficit to 24-17 after Alex Wade scored on a one-yard run less than five minutes into the third quarter. However, this is when Curry's exploits ignited the Heels to the blowout, handing Duke its 22nd consecutive loss.
Curry completed passes of six, 14, 25 and 18 yards – the latter a scoring strike to Aiken – to give UNC a 31-17 cushion.
"Sam (Aiken) has been impressive all year," Curry said. "He worked very hard this summer and made himself better and it's showing."
Moments later Curry hit Bailey (five catches for 66 yards) for a 30-yard touchdown pass to push the margin to 38-17. The toss was Curry's 26th career TD pass, tying him for fourth on the school's all-time list with Stanicek. At this point the game was essentially academic.
"We really wanted to come out heads up in the third quarter and not wait until the fourth quarter to put it out," Curry said. "I think the team did a great job in the third quarter."
As sharp as Curry and Durant were, the ground attack, which has been nonexistent the last two games, figured it too would get into the act.
The duo of Jacque Lewis (11 carries for 94 yards and a TD) and Willie Parker (10 attempts for 66 yards and a score) combined for 160 yards – 93 more than UNC had in recent consecutive losses to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
"We knew we had to get the running game back on track because," Lewis said, "with just one more game in the season and a possible bowl game, we have to have a rushing attack to have a balanced offense."
One UNC drive belonged solely to Lewis. On the first play of the series he jaunted 40 yards – his longest run of the season. On the next play, the Elizabeth City freshman scampered 28 yards to score his first career touchdown and give the Heels a 45-17 lead.
"I'm still shocked that I got a touchdown. It is the first touchdown of my college career," an elated Lewis said after the game. "It is something that every running back or anyone dreams of doing. I was very excited."
Even Curry churned his wheels for 29 yards on 11 carries, a deceiving number considering he was sacked twice and ran two keepers on short yardage situations.
Curry's impressive 11-yard zig-zag of a touchdown run, in which he seemingly ran by each of Duke's 11 defenders on the field, was his school record 13th rushing TD of his career.
"On his touchdown run, it was just amazing to watch him out there doing the things he's capable of doing," Bailey said. "I told him it reminded me of a high school play because they are always crazy like that and they always end up working out for us. I was impressed with the way he played today."
All told UNC gobbled up 192 yards on 39 attempts for an average of 4.9 per carry.
The 52 points equaled what UNC had in the first half of last year's 59-21 win in Durham and was just the second time Carolina has scored 50-plus points on an opponent in consecutive games.
Carolina secured a winning league record (5-3) and improved its overall mark to 6-5. With a victory over SMU on Dec. 1 the Tar Heels will be bowl eligible. And if Curry equals today's performance against the Mustangs, Senior Day Squared will clinch a bowl game for the Heels and send the Hampton, Va. native off in a deserving manner.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.