I have been a Duke football fans for 12 seasons now, and Saturday’s fourth quarter featured one of the most classic “That’s Duke football” moments of my career. After a furious rally, the Blue Devils were down a score with all the momentum in the world behind them. Their offensive drive stalled largely due to four bad Thad passes, and it was up to the defense to make a stop.
The same D that had completely stifled Wake over the last several drives needed one more three-and-out. On the first play, with 2:24 left, the Deacs run right, a Duke safety doesn’t shift in time, and Wake scores on a 53–yard TD run. A guy sitting in my section says, “That’s what they call a stadium clearer” as throngs of fans hit the exits. It was so typical of Duke Football. So close, yet so far.
“They made one more play than we did, and I’m tired of saying that,” Ted Roof said later.
I’m tired of hearing it, coach.
Of course, those fans that left early missed one last charge and touchdown, but the Devils’ could not recover an onside kick, and Wake was able to run out the clock. We had burned two timeouts on an earlier drive when Thad took a pair of sacks when he needed to get rid of the ball.
My game report features no video this week. My seats are technically for behind the end zone, but because Wally Wade usually has a few empty seats available, I always just walk into the more expensive sideline seats. No one has ever said anything in these last five years, but as I made my way down to my regular section, my brother, decked out in gold and black was stopped, forced to show his ticket, and we were booted too far for good video.
After the 9-0 start (a safety and another deep strike to Riley), the first 2 ½ quarters are a blur of unpleasantness. Thad threw two interceptions (one not his fault) within our own 20, one returned for a TD. Bad defense, bad passes, no running game. They converted on every 3rd down; we converted on none (note: that is not an official stat, just an impression). The low point came in the third when down 34-9 the large Wake section began chanting, “Waaaaaake! Foressssssst!” and the Duke faithful were too beaten to try to drown them out. Luckily, Thad’s arm was the silencer.
After another Riley TD cut the lead to 34-15, I told my brother, “All we need is 8-8-3.” The cocky bastard thought I was joking. Meanwhile, Duke finally said, “Screw it, let’s just keep chucking it around.” It worked. Riley’s stats (143 yards and 2 TDs) don’t even cover the numerous pass interference calls he drew as the DBs decided to just start hitting him for the 15 yard penalty than actually cover him. Next thing you know, I’m chanting “8-3.”
The fans are getting into it and we scored again when Wright made a sweet move on a wide receiver screen; alas, we failed on the conversion. (This is just as well… do we really want to be in the situation where we need a field goal to send the game to OT? No, I’d rather just keep chucking it into the end zone than see Joe Surgan’s ugly foot again.) Alas, we never covered that last score, and I was left broken-hearted yet again.
A lot of what-ifs… Thad missed a lot of open guys, and we had a drop in the end zone and a drop inside the five (in fairness, both were tough catches). Down five with 6 minutes left we punted on 4th and 1. We did get the ball right back, but I still don’t agree with the call. Another coaching issue… on an earlier 4th and 1 we line up to go for it, do a funky shift and the refs blow the whistle. They discuss and realize it was not an illegal shift, but the refs did halt our attempt to take Wake off guard. But then we send our punting unit and try a fake. C’mon! You just showed you wanted to go for it… Line up man-to-man and take the yard.