The Triangle Trifecta

UNC head coach Larry Fedora (top left), NC State quarterback Mike Glennon (top right) and Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon (bottom left) all enjoyed victories on Saturday. It was the first time all the Triangle teams won an ACC game on the same day since 1994.

Before NC State kicked off against No. 3 Florida State at around 8 p.m. Saturday night, some media members trickled into the Carter-Finley Stadium press box who had been at the North Carolina or Duke game (one intrepid reporter, Tucker McLaughlin, Jr. of the South Boston News & Record, made it to all three games).

The buzz was about Giovani Bernard’s performance in UNC’s 48-34 win over Virginia Tech, and how impressive Duke had been in its 42-17 dismantling of Virginia. Some reporters wondered aloud the last time all three teams had won an ACC game on the same day. But the conversation didn’t get very far: surely, NC State wouldn’t hold up its end of the bargain.

Only it did.

And so talk of the amazing day for the Research Triangle schools began again as soon as NC State’s 17-16 win was final. Joe Giglio, NC State beat writer for the Raleigh News and Observer, discovered it last happened on Oct. 15, 1994. The “Triangle Trifecta” has happened just four times ever and twice since 1963.

Unless one registers an upset win, the trio doesn’t register on the national scale. And they’re not especially relevant now: none are likely in the BCS bowl hunt (UNC isn’t even eligible, courtesy of an NCAA-sanctioned bowl ban). Yet it’s midway through the season, and the Tar Heels, Blue Devils and Wolfpack are a combined 13-5, the best record they’ve had at the halfway point since 1991 (12-5-1).

Somehow, Duke – the program that has been mired in futility more than the other two combined over the past decade and a half – has the best record of the three at 5-1. From 2000-06, Duke had a 9-71 record and was outscored by a total of 1,409 points. The Blue Devils won just three ACC games in span and none from 2005-07.

Carolina wasn’t setting the world on fire: the Tar Heels won six games three times from 2000-06, but never more. They had two 3-9 seasons and a 2-10 season that featured a loss to Duke in 2003. Their two best seasons under Butch Davis (2008 and 2009) never happened, according to the NCAA. Even those seasons were mired in disappointments, like bad losses to Virginia both years.

Chuck Amato was hired at NC State in 2000 and until 2003, NC State had a 34-17 record (including an 11-3 season). But the Wolfpack slipped back into mediocrity, going 15-20 from 2004-06. They wouldn’t finish with a winning record until 2010.

And so yes, it’s just as rare as it is significant that all three teams won an ACC game on the same day.

“I think it’s just great for all of us. I was told that was only the fourth time that’s ever happened in history, home or away, that all three of us won,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said Tuesday. “That just kind of boggles your mind. I’m just glad to participate in the winning part of it. I think it’s certainly good for football in the Triangle.”

Some of the players didn’t revel in that Triangle Togetherness. “We probably wanted each other to lose,” North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick said.

“I didn’t hear about that until later on (Saturday),” Duke running back Juwan Thompson said. “A lot of ACC teams have been having a lot of ups and downs, so there have been a lot of surprise upsets this year and a lot of different things going around this year that a lot of people didn’t expect. It’s going to be surprising who’s right there in the ACC Championship.”

North Carolina cornerback Jabari Price said he didn’t watch the NC State game, but he wished he had. When asked if he would have rooted for the Wolfpack, he said: “For the first time ever. I was hoping that State knocked them off. I’m a guy that goes for the underdog team, so I was kind of glad that Florida State got knocked off.” Parker grew up a Miami fan, so when asked if he his feelings about Florida State had anything to do with it, he grinned. “Nah. And they didn’t recruit me, so that might have something to do with it.”

Reddick actually did watch the Wolfpack’s game. Just not all of it. “I watched it up until like maybe halfway through the fourth. I was thinking State was going to lose at that point in time.” And so he turned the game off. (He likely wasn’t the only one.)

Duke linebacker David Helton wins the Triangle Trifecta spirit award. “Obviously, we were watching the Florida State-NC State game because that’s a big game,” Helton said. “It’s exciting for all the Triangle teams. It’s an exciting thing and I feel like it builds a kind of football culture around this area, which is really, really cool to see.”

Duke and NC State don’t meet this season (ACC expansion for the win!), but Carolina takes on both on successive Saturdays starting Oct. 20. While ineligible to win the Coastal Division, the Tar Heels are more than happy to play spoiler. “We’re looking to destroy other teams, so we can mess it up for them,” Reddick said. “Our goal was to win 12 games. We lost two, so we’ll try to win ten.”

And if both Duke wins at Virginia Tech and UNC outscores Miami this weekend, they will meet in primetime next Saturday to potentially decide who finishes first in the division.

“If we win and Duke wins, I understand that we’re going to be first in the Coastal. That’s something we don’t want to pass on. I know we can’t compete for it, but we definitely want to be the best,” Price said.

Carolina and State aren’t strangers to bowl games. It’s a minimum requirement from the respective fan bases at this point. But Duke has gone 17 seasons without a bowl appearance and its only other five-win campaign in that span came in 2009. From 1995-2007 (12 seasons), Duke won either zero games or one game six times.

As Tobacco Road basketball has shown us over the years, it’s always more fun when all three Triangle-area teams are good. But for the first time in what feels like forever, on the eve of basketball practice beginning, the Triangle is still interested in football. Yes, even in basketball-crazy Durham. And that’s where the change has been the most significant.

“It’s fun especially just around here, around Duke. It’s really exciting just to see how many people – I see people at Chick-Fil-A or anywhere and they’re like, ‘Good game.’ It’s really cool to experience that,” Helton said.

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