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Duke And Virginia Tech’s Football History

It tilts towards the Hokies but Duke could make up some ground this weekend.

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Duke v Virginia Tech
BLACKSBURG, VA - OCTOBER 24: Running back Travon McMillian #34 of the Virginia Tech Hokies is hit by defensive tackle Mike Ramsay #99 of the Duke Blue Devils in the second half at Lane Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Duke defeated Virginia Tech 45-43 in quadruple overtime.
Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

Duke and Virginia Tech have been playing football since, 1937, on an irregular basis until Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004.

Duke dominated early, winning the first six matchups. This was during the Glory Days of Wallace Wade

Since then, not so much. Duke has won only three times in 19 tries against the Hokies, 2-12 in ACC competition.

Ironically, both of the ACC wins came in Blacksburg, a 13-10 win in 2013 that propelled Duke to the Coastal Division title and a pulsating overtime win in 2015.

The Blue Devils have had their chances at home, field-goal mishaps costing Duke likely wins in 2014 and 2016.

You have to go all the way back to 1981 to find the last time the Hokies went back to Blacksburg with a loss to Duke on their resume.

Let’s set the stage. Red Wilson was in the third year of his four-year Duke tenure. Duke opened the season with losses to Ohio State and South Carolina. Star quarterback Ben Bennett was injured in the OSU opener, a shoulder injury.

Ron Sally stepped in for Bennett and led Duke to wins over Virginia and East Carolina, throwing for 336 yards and two scores in a comeback win in Charlottesville.

Virginia Tech wasn’t in the ACC in 1981. They were an independent.

In fact, they weren’t even Virginia Tech. They still went by VPI, aka Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Bill Dooley was their head coach. They came into Durham 4-0.

Bennett had begun practicing but Sally got the starting nod for Duke.

He struggled, completing only 4-of-13, for 11 yards, with an interception.

He went back in one more time, in the middle of the second quarter, greeted by a chorus of boos.

“The most uncouth thing I’ve ever heard at Duke,” Bennett said after the game.

Sally admitted the boos “hurt me and disappointed me.”

Wilson pulled Sally for Bennett.

It was scoreless at the time. Bennett put together a drive but Scott McKinney was wide from 39 yards, with two minutes left in the half.

McKinney came into the game having made seven straight.

Duke got the ball back after a Johnny Hill interception. But McKinney’s 48-yard field goal was partially blocked and the teams went into the locker room scoreless.

Duke finally completed a drive in the third quarter, 13 plays, 86 yards. Mixing Bennett passes and runs by 5-7, 180-pound Mike Grayson, Duke drove to the VPI 26. On third-and-six, Bennett lofted a pass to future NFL mainstay Cedric Jones for the score.

McKinney’s PAT made it 7-0, with 2:16 left in the third quarter.

Tech responded with an 84-yard drive, 43 of those on a run by Cyrus Lawrence that set up a two-yard sneak by quarterback Steve Casey.

Again, Duke moved down the field. Third-and-goal from the seven. Grayson got the call and fought towards the goal line.

Duke thought he scored. But no signal came.

There was no video review in those days. Duke was out of timeouts and the clock was ticking, as Duke waited for a call that never came.

Duke could have accepted a delay-of-game penalty and kicked a still-short field goal for the lead.

But Bennett called a sneak from inches away.

He was stuffed.

“I started to call a timeout,” Bennett said, “but realized we didn’t have any left. So, I ran the play I thought Coach [offensive coordinator] Spurrier would have called.”

Les than two minutes remained. The Hokies could have wedged it out three times and accepted the tie. There was no overtime in those days.

Dooley was having none of it.

“I don’t play to tie. I play to win.”

The Hokies ran twice but Casey passed out of the end zone on third down, trying to hit Derek Carter on the sidelines, stopping the clock.

But he underthrew the pass.

Duke defensive back Dennis Tabron jumped the route and sprinted into the end zone, a 10-yard score, 58 seconds left.

“I was really surprised that they tried to throw,” Tabron said. “I figured they’d play for the tie, sneak it three times and then punt it out.”

Amazingly, Tech drove down the field, reaching the Duke 15 before Joby Brannion ended the game with an interception in the end zone.

It was Casey’s fifth interception of the game. The Hokies also lost two fumbles.

The teams ended with 18 first downs each, Duke with a 307-296 edge in total offense.

Grayson rushed for 104 yards for Duke, Lawrence 117 for the visitors.

“After we missed that touchdown, I was thinking that a tie was than a loss,” Wilson said. “If you keep trying long enough, fate’s gonna smile on you.”

Duke ended the season 6-5.

The teams met the following year at Wade, Dooley living up to his word, going for and converting a two-point conversion in the dying seconds for a 22-21 win.

The teams didn’t play again at Wade until 2005.

Duke’s home losing streak against Virginia Tech/VPI has now reached seven. An opportunity awaits.

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