The Hall of Fame coach was nearly certain that Duke was going to throw a fade and take its chances against one of North Carolina's backup cornerbacks.
"We’re on the sideline trying to figure out, 18 seconds left and no timeouts, what do you do? I said fade because it’s the safest thing and we’ve had trouble with that play, so I think they’re going to take two or three shots up on our corners," Carolina coach Mack Brown said.
His first-year defensive coordinator saw something entirely different, after the Blue Devils gave him a peek at their formation before a timeout.
Having gameplanned against the Duke offense for the past four seasons at Army, one specific play stuck out to Jay Bateman.
"I kind of have some carry over knowledge," Bateman said. "They beat us 13-7 at Duke in 2016 and they beat me on a pop pass. So when I saw the formation I was pretty confident that’s what we were getting."
His memory wasn't exactly perfect, as it was Duke's first touchdown that day, when quarterback Parker Boehme faked the run before tossing to a wide open Erich Schneider, but it was good enough.
The play came from the 3-yard line — the exact same spot as Duke's on Saturday's play.
But that's not the only way that Duke has run the play in recent years.
In a 2017 victory over Georgia Tech, quarterback Daniel Jones handed to Shaun Wilson, who then found tight end Daniel Helm for a wide open touchdown.
In 2014, it was the same formation at the 3-yard line vs. Virginia, but on this one, quarterback Thomas Sirk was responsible for the throw.
A one-off is harder to find in that situation, but going back, if a play is consistently successful on film, it sticks out.
Gameplanning involves going through years of film to find something like Duke's pop pass. It certainly didn't hurt that Bateman's Army defense was on the receiving end of it once.
"We go back to certain games," Bateman said. "Try to find people that match you. But we look at almost every play we have. If there’s something that shows up in our situation like that, then we try to see if that’s something that happens year in and year out."
Given the situation, Brown also believed pass.
"So, we felt like it would be a pass, felt like the quarterback either moves and throws because he’s got time to do that," Brown said. "Throws it away — can’t get sacked — throws the fade which is safe."
Ultimately, Brown believed in his defensive coordinator's experience.
"Jay said the pop pass," Brown said. "I don’t know where he came up with it, I don’t know why; I’d never heard that before."
Despite his gut feeling in that moment, it's not something that the Tar Heels had covered in practice. Instead, he called over Myles Dorn and made it clear that he was to stay with Duke tight end Noah Gray rather than rushing to the ball.
"I said, 'I think it’s going to be a pop pass, Myles; come over and cover that guy,'" Bateman said.
Not only did Dorn cover Gray, but Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmell never took a step beyond the 1-yard line while DeAndre Hollins also stepped into the passing lane.
It just so happened that Surratt made an incredible play, leaping up and tipping the ball near his right knee before hauling it in and falling to the turf.
Reviewing the film on Sunday, Bateman joked with Dorn, who stepped into the passing lane behind Surratt just as Deon Jackson threw the ball.
"Chazz made a great play; that was a great play," Bateman said. "I think Myles — we watched it about 20 times yesterday. I watched it with Myles and said, ‘Are you sure you would have caught this?' It was close. But it was a great play by Chazz."
Bateman admitted that going all-in on the stop there has its risks, particularly if Duke goes with a straight run and the linebackers don't get to the gap, but such is the hand you're dealt in that situation.
"Don’t let them get to the 2-yard line," Bateman said. "It makes it a lot easier."
Not long afterward, Brown was shedding tears as he became Carolina's all-time wins leader — but that's not why he was crying.
"All of that is rushing through your head but what I saw was kids coming off the field thinking, ‘Virginia Tech,'" he said. " I saw kids go out there and make a play to win the game and that’s so significant for these kids and the rest of their lives and so significant to believe and not quit and keep trying, for our fanbase, it’s such a wonderful message and I think that’s what got me.
"A great call by Jay Bateman and what a play by our defense to show they can make plays down the stretch to win."