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September 29, 2012WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Duke football broke a string of 12 consecutive losses to Wake Forest Saturday with a 34-27 victory at BB&T Field, pushing its overall record to 4-1 to end the first month of the 2012 season.
The battle between the two private schools has been close for much of the streak, with Duke always coming up short. To finally get the win resulted in a very happy Duke locker room following the game.
"It's unbelievable," senior wide receiver Conner Vernon said. "You can't really put it into words what the feeling was. That feeling in the locker room is why I came to Duke and that's why you play college football."
The Blue Devils appeared to have complete control of the football game, up 20-10 with just over five minutes to go in the third quarter, but a string of bad plays suddenly turned the tide in the home team's favor.
With 9:12 remaining on the clock in the third, Duke put together a 5:48, 12 play, 75-yard drive to jump ahead by 10 points, clearly holding the edge at that point in the contest. The Blue Devils' defense added to the team's high confidence level by forcing the Demon Deacons into a quick three-and-out on the ensuing drive, giving themselves a golden opportunity to put Wake in a deeper hole.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the Deacons had different plans. Wake Forest, who had struggled to stop the Duke offense for much of the game, giving up 381 total yards, found a way to force the visitors into a punt after holding the ball for just five plays.
At the time, Duke's punt appeared to be yet another example of how David Cutcliffe's team was in complete control, as Will Monday pinned the Demon Deacons at their own 2-yard-line. Duke's defense began that drive dominating the Wake offense, forcing them into a 3rd-and-9 and setting themselves for yet another chance to push the home team deeper behind.
However, Wake Forest managed to convert the third down with a 36 yard pass play from Tanner Price to running back Deandre Martin. That play broke Duke's back on the drive, and Wake Forest marched the remaining 62 yards down field to close the gap to three points with only 2:17 to go in the third.
The momentum then shifted even more in the direction of Wake Forest when Sean Renfree's pass attempt was intercepted by defensive end Zach Thompson and returned three yards to the Blue Devils 20-yard-line.
Renfree, who was hit and injured on the play, was removed from the game and never returned.
Wake Forest could have taken over the lead at that point, but the Duke defense held strong and forced a field goal, which tied the score. It was then that the Devils regained control of the contest.
"It was just a string of bad plays and that happens," Ross Cockrell said. "It's a momentum shift and we know you're not going to have the momentum the whole game and we were ready for that and bounced back. Our motto is to put on more steam and that's what we did."
Duke did put on more steam and found a way to jump back ahead 34-20 late in the fourth quarter.
Reserve quarterback Anthony Boone took the field in place of Renfree for the remainder of the game, and he was outstanding leading the Duke offense. Boone completed 8-of-11 passes for 54 yards, while rushing three times for 10 yards and one touchdown.
He, along with outstanding fourth quarter play by the defense, helped Duke seal its first road victory of the season.
Duke also grabbed the win thanks to taking advantage of four Wake Forest turnovers. The Blue Devils scored 17 points off Deacon turnovers, two of which came in the fourth quarter giving Duke the opportunity to jump ahead by 14 points at 34-20.
"There were plays by the defense, four big takeaways," Cutcliffe said. "It was a really good team victory."
DUNCAN PRODUCES AGAIN
Freshman running back Jela Duncan posted just 56 yards on the day, but his 11 carries averaged out to 5.1 yards per carry, a very impressive number for the Blue Devil back.
Duncan's impressive play came in key situations, including a huge 17-yard run for a touchdown with just 2:50 remaining in the game. The freshman's score gave Duke a 34-20 lead, closing off the Deacons hopes for the home win.
"Put the nail in the coffin," Duncan said after the game. "They are a great team and Wake Forest has a great defense but the line opened up a hole and I just had to hit it."
The Blue Devils looked to establish the run from the start of the game, and managed to do a solid job of that throughout, posting 123 yards on the ground. Josh Snead also gave Duke some quality runs, posting 32 yards on just six carries, good for a 5.3 per carry average.
Even still, it was Duncan who continued to make a statement out of the backfield. In addition to his solid running abilities, he pulled in three receptions for 23 yards. To this point, Cutcliffe is more than pleased with his progress.
"Jela, every week he's proving what we thought about him coming in," Cutcliffe noted. "He's a powerful, fast football player. He's difficult to tackle and I just think the best is yet to come. He's a also a good pass protector and a very good pass receiver."
DEFENSE GETS PRESSURE LATE
The stat sheet from Saturday's game will indicate for years to come that Duke did not get much pressure on Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price and the rest of the offensive backfield. Those that were there or watched from home knows that's not the case, particularly in the fourth quarter.
Duke did struggle to pressure the backfield throughout the second and third quarters, but when it mattered most, the Devils stepped up and made plays.
Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, Dezmond Johnson, Kenny Anunike, Kyler Brown, Jonathan Woodruff and defensive backs Jordon Byas and Dwayne Norman all made plays in the Wake backfield. Duke was officially credited with just one quarterback hurry, one sack and four tackles for loss, but the team was much more impactful than that.
Cutcliffe was very pleased with what he saw in the fourth quarter.
"We really didn't do anything much differently," Cutcliffe said. "We kept rotating our guys. I just told Rick Petri, I can see it from the sideline. Our guys, the conditioning level - Noel Durfey and his staff - I don't know if I've seen young men play harder than they continue to play. It was impressive. No changes, they just willed themselves into some of it.
"It's been difficult with [Jamal] Bruce out, Sydney [Sarmiento] playing a different position, we had people on the left side, right side that are different from what they have been. Just a good job by everybody."
Duke's pressure helped result in C.J. France's interception, as well as Brown and DeWalt-Ondijo's forced fumbles. While the Duke defense did not do anything different than it had been, the desire to keep pressing finally wore down the Wake offensive line.
Blue Devil defenders, like Cutcliffe, attribute their ability to keep getting in the backfield late to conditioning and their will to keep working.
"Keep going hard, keeping going hard and eventually they cracked," DeWalt-Ondijo said. "I felt like their kicks weren't as fast after a while."
BOONE STEPS UP
Anthony Boone was forced into the game during a crucial point, one in which the momentum was quickly shifting in the direction of the Deacons.
With Renfree out, the offense was put on Boone's shoulders and he responded in a very big way. He completed several big passes to keep drives alive and made plays with his feet.
While some fans might have been surprised by his ability to maintain his composure in such a high pressure situation, his teammates and coaches were not shocked by what they saw on the field.
"Renfree going down was a loss, but it wasn't going to stop us from making plays," Vernon said. "We had confidence in Boone and [the coaches] would have called the same exact plays if Renfree was in there. Being able to see Boone come in there like that was great."