Coming off a clutch win against Navy just a week ago, the Blue Devils looked to translate that success to the ACC and notch their first conference victory.

But in a situation that has become all too familiar for Duke, tough losses in lower weight divisions cost the Blue Devils dearly, leaving them to return to Durham still without a conference win.

Duke traveled to Blacksburg, Va., Saturday to take on No. 10 Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum, where it came up just short of the Hokies 24-19. Unlike its last match against a ranked opponent—when No. 6 N.C. State demolished the Blue Devils 32-6—Duke held tough against a Virginia Tech team with six nationally-ranked wrestlers. Despite the loss, redshirt senior Jacob Kasper continued his reign of dominance through the season, and the Finesilver brothers yet again battled through tough bouts.

“When you've got five and 10th [ranked teams] in your conference, you wrestle them,” Blue Devil head coach Glen Lanham said. “We've got to wrestle to win, and I'm not seeing some of our guys get that yet, but if they can, this can be a really good season.”

Duke opened the afternoon on a high note thanks to senior Thayer Atkins. Wrestling in the 125 against Ryan Moore, Atkins dominated the first period 4-1 before catching Moore off guard. The Blue Devil veteran got the Hokie rookie on his back in 3:18 for a pin, giving Duke an early 6-0 lead.

However, as has been the case all year, inexperience in the lower weight classes quickly drained the Blue Devils of their advantage. Facing off against No. 17 Dennis Gustafson, freshman Josh Finesilver struggled to find an angle in the 133 and fell short 10-4, giving Virginia Tech its first decision of the night. The Hokies followed that up immediately with back-to-back major decisions in the 131 and 149, taking a 12-6 lead.

Despite the early setback, the rest of the Finesilver brothers did not let the Blue Devils go down without a fight.

In the 157, No. 11 redshirt junior Mitch Finesilver shot out of the gates with an early takedown on B.C. LaPrade, with the Virginia Tech freshman coming up injured as a result. With LaPrade unable to return to the mat for any longer than a minute, Duke was granted a medical forfeit, and the score was knotted 12-12. 

Redshirt junior—and twin brother—Zach Finesilver was up next in the 165 against No. 4 David McFadden. Although Zach found an early lead at 3-2 thanks to a fast takedown, McFadden took the reins in the second period and ultimately secured the bout 6-4.

“That's got to [give Zach confidence],” Lanham said. “That's the No. 4 man in the country. He pressured him. Realistically, I feel like in the last minute and a half [Zach] wrestled to lose close and not to win. I told him you can't finish out and either you lose big or you win big.”

No. 20 freshman Matt Finesilver stepped up to level the score yet again at 15-15 with a win in the 174. Up against Cody Hughes, the Greenwood Village, Colo., native controlled the match after a 2-0 opening period and notched his fifth straight win.

The Hokies then clinched the meet with key wins in the 184 and 197. In the 184, freshman Kaden Russell was dominated by No. 8 Zack Zavatsky, getting forced on his back in 2:04 and granting Virginia Tech six points. Although senior Alec Schenk fought close in the 197-pound division, second-ranked Jared Haught ultimately prevailed with explosive second and third periods to clinch the win.

Although victory was out of reach for the Blue Devils, Kasper made sure Duke left Blacksburg with a bang. The No. 4 heavyweight registered a fast takedown on No. 18 Andrew Dunn and led 5-0 after just five minutes. In the final period, Kasper notched a near fall and riding time bonus points to take the bout 10-0.

“[Jacob] is wrestling like a guy who's trying to win a national title,” Lanham said. “He's wrestling like a guy who's trying to be one of the best. That's what he's wrestling like.”

The Blue Devils take on Gardner-Webb next Thursday night at home in Card Gymnasium.

“We can finish the year strong,” Lanham said. “With everyone on board and training, we've got to get ready for Gardner Webb and Virginia on Saturday.”