On the surface, Duke played a much better football game Saturday at Wake Forest than it did last week against Richmond.
But in the end, the same type of mistakes cost the Blue Devils a victory. Duke failed to capitalize on first half red zone opportunities and had critical kicking game errors, including the final play of the game when Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn blocked Joe Surgan's potential game winning field goal from 28 yards.
Duke held a 10-0 lead at halftime, but the Blue Devils were haunted by red zone inefficiency despite marching up and down the field largely behind the arm of true freshman quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who played all 60 minutes under center.
After a defensive stop by Duke on the first series of the game, the Blue Devils worked their way downfield but stalled at the Wake Forest 10 yard line. Surgan's missed 27-yard field goal was the first of several frustrating developments on Duke's scoring chances.
The next trip deep into Demon Deacon territory netted three points, but a fumbled snap out of the shotgun by Lewis prevented Duke from having a great opportunity at a touchdown.
A great opportunity at the beginning of the second quarter also went by the wayside when Lewis made an ill advised pitch to Requan Boyette on an option play to the right. The loose ball ended up in the arms of Wake Forest linebacker Stanley Arnoux and the chance was spoiled.
Duke did strike for a big play with 4:59 to play in the second quarter when Lewis hit Jomar Wright on a 47-yard bomb to the end zone to put Duke up 10-0. The touchdown catch redeemed Wright for dropping another sure touchdown on Duke's first play of the game when he had slipped behind the entire Demon Deacon defense.
The touchdown brought brief respite to the red zone frustrations, but they reappeared just before halftime. Duke's Glenn Williams caused and recovered a fumble on the kickoff return following Wright's touchdown catch, and Duke quickly moved inside the five yard line looking to go up 17-0.
That's when Boyette took a second down handoff, leaped the pile and lost the football just before he reached the end zone. When Wake Forest safety Patrick Ghee fell on the ball for a touchback, it began to be apparent that Duke had let the Deacs off the hook.
Wake Forest cracked the scoreboard for the first time in the third quarter on a five yard touchdown pass from quarterback Riley Skinner to tight end John Tereshinski.
Duke's defense steadied itself, and following a made kick by Surgan from 39 yards the Blue Devils held Wake Forest scoreless until Micah Andrews crashed in for what proved to be the game winning score from two yards out with 1:28 remaining.
The heartbreaking loss for Duke certainly wasn't without its positives. Lewis asserted his control of the offense, throwing for 305 yards and a touchdown, and he led his team on a potential game winning drive at the end only to see it go for naught when Surgan's kick was blocked.
On the ground, Duke got good production from fullback Tielor Robinson, who tallied 25 yards on four carries to go with an additional 46 yards receiving on two catches.
Wright paced Duke's receivers with 104 yards, but his drop on Duke's first offensive play may be the play that most sticks in the minds of Duke fans.
Duke's defense was immeasurably improved over last year's 44-6 loss to Wake Forest. The Deacs' vaunted ground attack only mustered 57 yards, but the Devils couldn't make a big play against Skinner, who was very efficient on the afternoon, completing 22 of 29 passes for 235 yards.
However, the defense had its own missed opportunities, with perhaps the biggest coming when safety Chris Davis had an interception negated by a roughing the passer penalty called against linebacker Mike Tauiliili in the second quarter.
With the loss, Duke opens the season 0-2 for the third straight season, and an ominous road remains ahead. The next five weeks Duke will face Virginia Tech, Virginia, Alabama, Florida State, and Miami.