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Duke Falls To Hokies, 17-16

Ross Martin had a chance to win the game but missed his first field goal of the year.

Nov 15, 2014; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils wide receiver Johnell Barnes (4) tackles Virginia Tech Hokies cornerback Greg Stroman (3) at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Nov 15, 2014; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils wide receiver Johnell Barnes (4) tackles Virginia Tech Hokies cornerback Greg Stroman (3) at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Duke took control of the ACC’s Coastal Division with a remarkable brand of mistake-free football.

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But the margin for error was pretty thin and it was a cascade of errors that doomed Duke to a gut-wrenching 17-16 loss to Virginia Tech Saturday afternoon.

Name the error and you could find it in Duke Blue. Turnovers, sacks, penalties, special-teams miscues and red-zone inefficiencies combined to contribute to the loss.

Usually reliable play-kicker Ross Martin missed a 40-yard field goal with 2:26 left that would have given Duke the lead.

Martin fell on his sword, saying he pulled his head up too soon and "just missed it."

But David Cutcliffe said Duke didn’t get the "threads down right" and says he winced on the sidelines before the kick.

Of course, if you don’t want to put the game in the hands and feet of the kicking team, then there’s a simple solution. Score touchdowns.

Duke had the ball inside the Virginia Tech 40 eight times and only found the end zone once,

Duke had the Hokies on the ropes twice, once in the first quarter and again in the third. But both times a potential knock-out blow turned into a costly turnover.

The Blue Devils dominated early, piling up 117 yards on their first two possessions. The first ended with a 26-yard Martin field goal--an ill omen-the second on a two-yard scoring run by Josh Snead.

Duke had a 176 to 40 yard total offense advantage and a 10-0 lead after one period.

Duke began the second period with the ball at the Virginia Tech 27. But Boone tried to force a pass to a covered Jamison Crowder and Deon Clarke picked him at the two,

Still, there are worse things than having the other team pinned back at their two, But Tech put together their only sustained drive of the game, a 12-play, 98-yard drive that included only a single third-down conversion and included a succession of misdirection runs.

Duke defensive end Dezmond Johnson said the Tech drive was facilitated by "a lot of mental breakdowns, busted coverages, missed assignments along the D-line."

Cutcliffe added that Duke didn’t do a good job of responding to Tech’s up-tempo offense.

Duke ran for 121 yards in the opening quarter. But Tech stuffed Duke’s ground game after that. Anthony Boone credited the Hokies with "staying true to what they are and pinning their ears back."

Fair enough. But Cutcliffe noted that VT’s attention to the run opened up opportunities in the passing game. "We were not very good with the completion percentage. We left some points on the field. We should be able to hit those plays."

After going five for nine in the first quarter, Anthony Boone went through another baffling spell of inaccuracy, missing open receivers on multiple occasions. He ended 18 for 40.

"Timing issues," Boone called the misses. "With tight coverage, you have to be on time. They forced me to throw early."

Duke could easily have found itself down at intermission but the defense buckled down, sacking Tech’s Matt Brewer four times in the first half, three in the second period.

It was 10-7 at intermission. Duke had more penalty yards (48) in the second period than total offense yards (40).

Duke began the second half the way it began the first half, twice marching down the field. But both times the Virginia Tech defense held. Martin converted field goals from 48 and 24 yards out.

The second of those gave Duke a 16-7 lead, with 3:49 left in the third. The two-possession lead seemed even safer when Breon Borders made a leaping interception at the Virginia Tech 36.

Then disaster struck. Twice. Boone was hit on a third-down pass and the ball fluttered into the hands of Tech’s Derek Di Nardo. Duke’s Max McCaffrey made a touchdown-saving tackle, running down Di Nardo at the Duke nine.

The Duke defense limited the damage, Kyler Brown picking up a big sack. Joey Slye hit the field goal and it was 16-10.

It seemed like Duke had dodged a bullet. But DeVon Edwards fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Tech recovered at the Duke 31

Matt Brewer converted a third-and eight with a 26-yard pass to Bucky Hodges, to the Duke three. A two-yard loss and a holding penalty pushed the Hokies back to the 15. But Hodges wonn a jump ball in the corner of the end zone.

The PAT made it 17-16. But Duke had almost 13 minutes and indeed they got the ball back four times, once taking over at the Duke 42 after an inexplicable failed fake punt.

Duke moved to the Tech 23 but failed to convert a third-and-three, leading to the missed field goal.

Duke got a three-and-out and got the ball back at their 40 with two minutes left, needed only 35 or so yards to give Martin a chance to redeem himself. Boone hit passes to Crowder and Isaac Blakeney, putting the ball at the Tech 41.

But the Tech defense had its mojo working and gave Boone little time. Cutcliffe said Tech’s defensive line had some good schemes and "won some battles." Boone was called for intentional grounding, followed by a false start, a sack and an under-duress fourth-down incompletion.

Duke lost the turnover battle three to one--Duke actually fumbled four times but lost only one. But the Blue Devils could not recover any of Virginia Tech’s three fumbles. And Boone’s four sacks equals the number of sacks allowed by Duke in its first nine games.

Cutcliffe said Duke competed hard but said "We’re not going to function well offensively if we have sacks, if we have plays for losses. I am responsible to see if we are ready in those regards. We were emotionally ready but it is my job to make sure we’re prepared, that we’re pristine."

Boone was more succinct. The mistakes are "our kryponite. Sacks, communication issues, they kind of got after us a little bit. We were not clean."


Ross Martin also missed a 51-yarder earlier in the game, his first miss of the season. He had made 16 of 18 field-goal attempts.

After rushing for 121 yards in the first quarter, Duke ended with 141 net yards, a total which includes 36 yards lost by Boone on sacks and a 12-yard loss on a Josh Snead run.

Jamison Crowder had six catches for 73 yards. Crowder now has 262 career receptions. He trails only former teammate Connor Vernon’s 283 catches among ACC players. Crowder also has 3,364 receiving yards, sixth in ACC history. He needs 233 yards to reach the 1,000 yard-mark for the third consecutive season.