Duke Johnson has left his mark on the University of North Carolina with indelible ink.
The junior from Miami Norland High School took a hand off from Brad Kaaya in the second quarter and dashed 90 yards with it for the score and in the process simply outran the entire UNC secondary. He ran like a man possessed and he would not be stopped. The play tied a UM record for the longest play in Miami history. It tied a record that has stood since 1955 in a game against Bucknell.
"90 yards is kind of far to run in one shot," Johnson joked after the game. "I almost ran out of gas around midfield." However, Johnson also said that he was running on sheer determination and that he refused to be caught.
After the game, Miami coach Al Golden said that Duke has "been practicing at a level that none of us have seen." Golden went on to add that "there is a difference between a talented running back and a skilled running back. This guy is skilled."
Johnson rushed for 177 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns rushing as the Hurricanes throttled the Tar Heels 47-20 before a Homecoming crowd at Sun Life Stadium. Johnson was removed from the game in the third quarter. His replacement, freshman sensation Joe Yearby, added 104 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. This marked the third game in a row that the Canes had two running backs go over the 100-yard mark.
To add a little more punch to his record-setting afternoon, Johnson took a screen pass from Kaaya, shortly after half time and dashed 37 yards and scored his third touchdown of the day. Johnson finished with two catches on the afternoon for 49 yards and the score.
The team's other workhorse at the running back position, Gus Edwards, injured his ankle in the first half and did not return to the game. After the game Golden said that Edwards' injury is not believed to be serious and that he is not expected to miss any time.
Kaaya aided the cause as he completed 11 of 17 passes for 189 yards and three scores. Once again, he did not throw an interception. He did have a questionable fumble in the first half that led to the first UNC touchdown.
The Canes defense provided six sacks on the afternoon and caused two turnovers. They held UNC to a net of six rushing yards and allowed 252 yards in the air, most of which came after the game was no longer in doubt. The Tar Heels added 126 yards in the fourth quarter when Miami was playing a prevent defense and was using mostly third-team players. Ryan Switzer, who came into the game needing two scores to become UNC's all-time touchdown reception leader, was limited to 44 yards on nine receptions and was kept out of the end zone. Michael Wyche also had his first sack as a Hurricane and played with a lot of emotion and intensity.
"We are tackling better and we are finishing better," Golden said after the game. "I think we are getting better. We've settled into who we really are."
Duke even came to the defense of his defensive unit, which has struggled earlier in the season, but has put together three convincing performances in a row.
"We have a great defense," Johnson said. "I know people talk about the bad, but they are capable of doing this every week."
For the sixth time in eight games, Miami drew first blood. The Canes marched 84 yards in 13 plays as Johnson scored on a one-yard plunge on 4th and goal. The Canes let their defense rest for a few minutes as the drive ate up more than seven minutes of clock in the first quarter. It was Miami's longest scoring drive of the season.
After Miami scored a safety to make the score 9-0, the Canes offense actually gave up a touchdown. Kaaya was hit by defensive end Mikey Bart as his arm was moving forward and it appeared to have been an incomplete pass. Linebacker Cayson Collins scooped up the loose ball and raced 39 yards with it to score the Tar Heel touchdown. After review, the officials said that it was a fumble, but it appeared as though Kaaya's arm was moving forward. UNC missed the point after and trailed UM 9-6 with 13:37 to play in the half.
"No one panicked afterwards," Kaaya said after the game. "We just looked at it as one play and that it was over and we were looking forward to the next play. It was the next play mentality."
On Miami's next drive, the Canes were forced to punt, but Johnson eclipsed Edgerrin James for second place on the UM all-time rushing list. He currently trails only Ottis Anderson as the greatest yardage back in UM history.
Kaaya then took the Canes 61 yards in seven plays with the final 14 yards coming on a touchdown pass to Clive Walford on a seam route. The drive took a little less than four minutes and Miami increased its lead to 16-6.
After Duke's long touchdown run, the Tar Heels took over and a few plays later, Marquise Williams' pass was intercepted by Deon Bush. That turned into Walford's second touchdown of the day as he caught a Kaaya pass in the corner of the end zone with :36 left in the half. Miami took a 30-6 lead into the locker room and that delighted the partisan crowd at the stadium.
Golden said that the Canes are learning how to deal with adversity as a result of all of the injuries that the team has suffered of late and the noise surrounding the negativity of the fanbase.
"They are dealing with the adversity on the field better," Golden said. "They've dealt with it off the field with class."
Jim Kelly was the Honorary Captain for the Canes in today's homecoming win. Golden was glad to see him. Both he and Kelly grew up in Pennsylvania. Golden showed some emotion when talking about Kelly after the game. Kaaya even said after the game that seeing Kelly on the sidelines pumped him up and served as an inspiration. Kaaya said that he met Kelly before the game and that Kelly told him to just keep doing what he has been doing and that everything will work out for him at Miami.
"It was very emotional," Golden said.
The Canes (6-3, 3-2) have a bye next week and then play host to the second-ranked Florida State Seminoles at Sun Life Stadium on November 15. The time of the game has not been announced.