Duke’s dream of winning an ACC football championship lives on; not by a silly centimeter or the hair of their chinny chin-chin.
Instead, by a decisive 48-30 win over a nationally-ranked Miami squad It was no fluke. Duke twice spotted Miami a 10-point first-half leads, fell behind late in the third quarter and answered with another dominant stretch run, 20 unanswered points over the final 18 minutes.
Duke passed with efficiency but gashed Miami to the tune of 358 rushing yards. On the other side of the ball, Duke played bend-but-don’t break, consistently making stops in the red zone.
Miami opened as a three-point favorite and covered the spread on their opening drive, with a 32-yard Matt Goudis field goal. When Stacy Coley took a Will Monday punt 79 yards for a score, Duke was down 10-0 before many in the crowd of 30,044 had even settled in their seats.
Duke settled down and marched 75 yards for a touchdown, with Brandon Connette going in from 2 yards out.
Get used to that sentence.
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the Duke fan base about the quarterback situation. But no worries. Anthony Boone got the start--he’s still undefeated as a starter--but he and Connette switched roles seamlessly.
Miami answered with a touchdown of their own and it was 17-7 and it looked like Duke might not have the answers on defense.
The game’s biggest play changed that. On 3rd and 4 from the Miami 49, DeVon Edwards deflected a Stephen Morris pass and Deondre Singleton gathered in the interception.
Duke took over at their 48 and marched 52 yards, Connette hitting Shaq Powell for the final 22.
Miami marched to the Duke 8 but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Morris led to another field goal. It was one of 10 first-half penalties, six on the visitors.
Duke closed the half with a flourish, marching 75 yards, 32 of them coming on a Josh Snead burst. Connette scored from three yards out and Duke went into the locker room with a 21-20 lead, convinced that they had absorbed Miami’s best shot.
Cutcliffe said Duke had "a great halftime," maintaining focus and poise and making some subtle adjustments.
Duke took the second-half kickoff and again marched down the field, six rushes, four passes, two quarterbacks, one touchdown, Connette again, this time from a yard out.
Miami had its last sustained offensive surge, actually more of an explosion, a 28-yard run and a 50-yard pass, making it 28-27.
The visitors got the ball back and marched to the Duke 14. But a third-down pass fell incomplete and Goudis made his third field goal and Miami led 30-28, with 5:04 left in the third quarter.
After that, it was all Duke. Snead says Duke’s offense could sense that they had Miami where they wanted them. "They couldn’t really handle our tempo. Once we started speeding it up on offense, they started getting gassed."
Duke continued to pound Miami’s defense. A 43-yard pass from Connette to Max McCaffrey set up a Ross Martin field goal and Duke ended the third period up 31-30.
Kelby Brown made a huge play on 3rd and 1 from near midfield, burying Dallas Crawford for a big loss. Crawford recovered his fumble but Jamison Crowder returned the ensuing punt 35 yards, to the Duke 41.
Brown called the play "toughness and heart." It was one of his 17 tackles on the evening.
The teams exchanged punts, Monday’s pinning Miami at their 1. They picked up one first down but Duke hung tough, forcing another punt.
After an incomplete pass, Snead exploded for 56 yards up the middle. Jela Duncan got 15 more and then Connette took it in again, this time from the 4.
Yes, Connette really did have touchdown runs of 1, 2, 3 and 4 yards.
Cutcliffe says Connette scores in those situations because he’s "fast and strong and big. He has a way of picking his way through the line of scrimmage."
Down 38-30, Miami was still in the game. But another drive failed to reach midfield and they punted again, Duke taking over at their 36 after a 25-yard Crowder return.
Duke guard Dave Harding says Duke sensed the kill. "We had kind of figured out that the fast tempo was getting them pretty good. That’s where our conditioning kicked in."
Boone hit tight end Braxton Deaver for 21 yards; McCaffrey had a huge block. Three plays later, Duke faced 4th and inches from the Miami 33. A 50-yard field goal would have put Duke up by 11. But the Blue Devils had bigger prey in mind.
"That’s why you play football," Harding said, "to be called on in a tough situation to really win the game."
Cutcliffe said of the call, "We were playing to win the football game and I think our players responded to that."
Harding and his teammates blew open a huge hole, Shaquille Powell exploded through it. 45-30.
Miami lost the ball on downs, burned their timeouts and fell further behind when Martin nailed his second field goal of the game.
That ended the scoring but not the on-field action as the students rushed the field to celebrate Duke’s sixth consecutive win and eighth win of the season.
"Winning was not an accident," according to Cutcliffe. He added calmly "We’re not going away. Get used to it."
Connette’s proclivity for producing touchdowns is putting him in some exalted company. He now has 29 career rushing touchdowns and passed Tom Davis (28) to become the Duke leader in that category. He has 12 this season, matching Mike Dunn’s 1976 season for rushing Tds by a quarterback. Connette is the first Duke quarterback to account for at least 10 rushing and 10 passing touchdowns in a single season.
Jamison Crowder had six catches, giving him 73 for the season. He and Connor Vernon are the only Duke receivers to have two 70-catch seasons.
Ross Martin has made his last eight field goals.
Snead rushed for 138 yards on 9 carries. Duncan added 98, Powell 59 and Connette 37.
Boone and Connette combined to it 16 of 24 passes. Best of all, Duke committed no turnovers, didn’t even come close.