Not all Senior Days end well. But this one did. Not only did Duke end a two-game winning streak with a decisive 41-21 win over Wake Forest, it did so with seniors leading the way and sending off the old Wallace Wade Stadium in style in a surprisingly high-scoring game, with a season’s-worth of bizarre plays.
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Defensive end Dezmond Johnson was one of those seniors. He said he and his classmates "had to come out and make a statement and be part of history. We knew it was on us to lead the team to victory. We have to be the people to lead the team."
Anthony Boone went out in style, accounting for 304 yards in total offense, without any of those pesky turnovers. In fact, Duke turned it over once, a Josh Snead backwards fumble, while committing only three penalties.
All-American-candidate guard Laken Tomlinson gave Boone credit for a Duke offense that piled up 439 total yards. "Anthony made the right reads and gave our play-makers a chance to make plays."
The biggest of those play-makers were senior wideouts Jamison Crowder and Isaac Blakeney.
You’re accustomed to hearing Crowder’s name on the hero’s list. His 102 receiving yards-on eight receptions--gives him 15 career games with 100 or more receiving yards.
But Blakeney had never hit the century mark. Until tonight. Battling flu-like symptoms, Blakeney set career-highs with seven catches and 107 yards.
Wake Forest came in 3-8 but off an upset win over Virginia Tech last week, in which the Deacons kept Tech out of the end zone. Many predicted a low-scoring defensive duel.
So, of course we got a first-half shoot-out, punctuated by pivotal special-teams plays.
DeVon Edwards returned the opening kickoff 46 yards for Duke to the Wake 47. Eight plays later Boone took it in from four yards out and Duke was on top.
Wake’s John Armstrong answered with a 56-yard return of his own and the visitors tied it on a 27-yard John Wolford to Jared Crump strike.
Armstrong’s kickoff return was the last good thing that would happen for Wake Forest’s special teams for the rest of the half. C.J. France recovered a fumbled punt for Duke at the Wake Forest 26, leading to a Shaun Wilson touchdown.
Then Duke recovered a perfectly-executed on-side kick at their 48. On the next play, Boone hit Crowder with a 52-yard strike down the right sideline.
In a span of nine seconds, Duke had broken a 7-7 tie with 14 points.
Duke added two field goals by Ross Martin in the second-period, sandwiched around a Wake Forest touchdown.
The half ended 27-14.
Some defensive struggle.
Wake made a run early in the third quarter. Wolford completed five-of-six passes on Wake’s opening drive, the fifth a 40-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Terry, a fifth-year senior scoring his first career touchdown.
Suddenly, it was 27-21 and Duke was in a fight. Duke responded with a nine-play, 78-yard drive that brought the bizarre back into Wallace Wade. On third-and-goal, Thomas Sirk was hit at the goal line by Brandon Chubb. Sirk fumbled into the end zone but Duke tackle Casey Blaser fell on the ball for the touchdown.
The Deacons converted a fake punt on the ensuing drive, as blocker Jordan Garside rumbled 28 yards, to the Duke 31. But Duke stopped Wolford on a fourth-down scramble.
Wake got the ball back when Josh Snead fumbled at the end of a 19-yard run. The fumble ended being recovered by Wake Forest 17 yards closer to the Duke goal line, at the 27. But Duke again got a fourth-down stop, senior Jordan DeWalt-Ondigo getting the sack.
Duke ended whatever suspense may have still been lingering, with the game’s final scoring drive, a time-consuming, spirit-sapping drive, 14 plays, 77 yards worth. Sirk connected with David Reeves on a jump pass from 18 yards out.
A few minutes after the conclusion of the game, the first symbolic shovel imprints were made on the Wallace Wade turf. Duke is getting ready for another game, a bowl whose destination and opponent are to be determined. And Duke is going in off a big win, one that takes away much of the sour taste of the previous two losses.
But if there were lots of looks into the future, there was just as much reflection. "It’s really incredible to walk out on the last game in this stadium, knowing how much has changed in my four years," David Helton said. "It’s truly incredible. All these seniors, you have to give a lot of credit to these guys, because they’ve done so much."
Tomlinson agrees. "It was a really emotional experience for us; really special for us to come out and perform. A good taste to go out to finish off the regular season with a win. This energy is going to carry over into the next game."
Ah, that next game. Blakeney says this win will give his class some great stories to tell when they get together down the road. But he adds that they’re looking for one more great story.
Nineteen wins--and counting-in consecutive seasons is uncharted territory for Duke. The program has never before won nine or more games in consecutive seasons.
Crowder continues to move up in some pretty exalted company. His eight catches give him 276 for his career. He trails only former teammate Connor Vernon on the ACC charts. Crowder needs seven in the bowl game to tie Vernon.
He has 3,539 receiving yards and needs 58 yards for his third consecutive 1,000 yard receiving season. He is sixth in all-purpose yards, with 5,372.
Ross Martin continued his streak with five extra points. Martin is 46-for-46 on PATs this season and 18-of-20 on field goals. Martin has made 106 consecutive PATs, a school record.
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