Here are words that no Duke fan over a certain age would have ever dreamed they would one day read: Duke put the fear of God into Notre Dame Saturday night, leading with less than one minute to play and nearly wrecking the entire season for the Fighting Irish.
It’s exactly what happened though.
The Irish took a 10-0 lead into halftime and for at least a few minutes early, a lot of Blue Devil fans probably thought, well, we may need to adjust our expectations. It didn’t help that Duke missed two field goal attempts either. That wouldn’t have been enough but it would have helped.
Still, Duke fought back. The Irish scored another field goal in the third quarter but Duke scored in the third and again in the fourth with 4:27 left to play to take a 14-13 lead.
But Notre Dame pulled off an excellent drive with time running low, culminating in a 30-yard touchdown run by running back Audric Estime. The Irish tacked on a two-point conversion, leaving Duke with :31 seconds on the clock.
To make matters worse, quarterback Riley Leonard was injured on the final play, rolling his ankle. There’s no word yet on how serious it is. Fortunately though the Blue Devils get a well-timed bye week, so he’ll get a longer break than usual.
Mike Elko called the loss heartbreaking, and it’s hard to argue. They were so close to one of the biggest wins in Duke football history, at least recent history. But this team has gone toe-to-toe with Clemson and now Notre Dame. That might have happened in the 1930s under Wallace Wade, but nothing like it has happened in our memory.
Coaches don’t want to talk about moral victories, but coming this close against Notre Dame is kind of like Rocky Balboa coming so close against Apollo Creed. It shows a lot, but most importantly, it shows the team has heart and didn't quit.
Clearly, 4-1 isn’t as good as 5-0, but you can say this about Duke: you’re going to have to legitimately beat this team. You’re going to have to earn it.
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