It was an opportunistic defense that brought the Univeraity of North Carolina to within one game of the Atlantic Coast Conference football title a week ago. Today that defense wrapped up the championship for the Tar Heels.
Six turnovers and one superb 80-yard drive supplied Carolina with more than enough points for a 16-4 win over Duke and the ACC title. The Tar Heels finished conference play with a 5-0-1 mark, one game better than Clemson's 4-1-1.
UNC finished with an overall record of 82-1 and immediately accepted a bid to play in the Liberty Bowl Dec. 19. Duke finished its season 5-6.
"The defense came up with the big play when we had to have it," Carolina coach Bill Dooley said. "Now I can say it, yes, this is the best defence we've had at Carolina."
Dooley's third ACC title (the others were 1971 and 72) was marred somewhat by what appeared to be a neck injury suffered by Duke quarterback Mike Dunn early in the fourth quarter.
Xrays on Dunn's neck proved negative but he was kept at Duke Hospital overnight for observation.
Dunn caught a Dee Hardison forearm in the neck and was taken from the field on a stretcher. Carolina was penalized 30 yards on the play when Hardison argued with the personal foul call.
The game had already been decided at that point. The Tar Heels, with freshman "Famous" Amos Lawrence doing most of the work, had driven 80 yards in 16 plays on their second possession. Lawrence, who finished with 138 yards on 30 carries, scored the touchdown from a yard out. He finished the regular season with 1,210 yards rushing.
The teams then traded a second-quarter Tom Biddle Tar Heel field goal and a third-quarter Scott Wolcott shot. The game turned early in the fourth quarter.
"We had our chance after their fumble," said Duke coach Mike McGee, who is rumored to be on his way out after seven seasons as Blue Devil coach. "Their defense was just excellent when it counted. The best we've faced all season."
That defense stopped the Devils cold after UNC quarterback Matt Kupeo had fumbled at his own 23 with 13:48 left. Duke picked up one yard on three plays and Wolcott's 39-yard field-goal try was wide right. Two more turnovers set up two more Biddle field goals which wrapped things up.
Before he was hurt, Dunn had completed just six of 18 passes and had rushed for 24 yards as Carolina's swarming defense kept Duke at bay all afternoon.
For the season the Carolina defense surrendered an average of 7.4 points per game, first in the nation. "I'm just proud of every single one of them," Dooley concluded, finally allowing himself a victory smile.