BLACKSBURG, Va.—Duke’s upset of No. 16 Virginia Tech Saturday took a stout defensive effort and a slew of career performances, but the Blue Devils were able to walk away with a victory that made history.
For a low-scoring 13-10 victory, Saturday’s contest resulted in more broken records and career-highs than any game the Blue Devils have played this season, with the all-important bowl berth being clinched as they secured their sixth victory of the season.
“To be the first team in Duke history to go to back-to-back bowls is another reason why each one of us came here and each one of us put in the work,” offensive guard Dave Harding said.
Cutcliffe was doused in a Gatorade bath following the game, as players celebrated the program's first trip to a bowl game in consecutive years in 101 seasons of Duke football.
“There’s a lot of history involved,” Cutcliffe said. “It is a historical victory and they should be proud of that. It is a distinct step in the right direction and it is a big step.”
The win by the Blue Devils marked the first time in program history in which they defeated Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and was the first time the Blue Devils had managed a victory against the Hokies anywhere since 1984. Prior to Saturday’s contest, Duke was 0-7 in Lane Stadium. The victory was also Duke’s first win against a ranked team on the road since 1971, when then-No.19 Duke defeated No.10 Stanford 9-3. The Blue Devils have been hot on the road this year, opening 3-0 away from Wallace Wade Stadium.
“We did what we had to do to beat a team that is extremely talented and well-coached in a hostile environment,” Harding said. “It’s a huge honor and I’m so proud to be a part of it.
Linebacker David Helton had the game of his career, as the junior registered a career-high 19 tackles and one pass breakup that led to Kelby Brown’s game-changing interception. DeVon Edwards, who also handles kickoff returns for Duke, made his first career start at safety and racked up a career-high 12 tackles.
“We just did everything we needed to do to win,” Brown said. “Numbers are nice and all, but they don’t matter. What matters is that one, and it’s a win.”
The secondary had a big day against Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, as they picked off the redshirt senior four times, which marked the squad’s first four-interception performance since 2008 against Virginia. Redshirt senior cornerback Garett Patterson notched the first pick of his career and Ross Cockrell, who injured his ankle on his touchdown-saving interception, also moved into first place on Duke’s all-time pass breakups list, as his 34th broke the tie he held with John Talley.
“Ross was still on the sidelines coaching us up, keeping us going, encouraging us as much as he could,” freshman cornerback Bryon Fields said.
Duke held Virginia Tech scoreless in the first half, shutting its opponent out for the fourth consecutive quarter. Even after letting up 10 points in the second half, the third and fourth quarters have belonged to the Blue Devil defense this season, as they have held teams to an average of 7.8 points per game.
“Being a part of a change in the program is the most amazing feeling you can have,” Helton said. “It feels out of this world.”
Special teams also came up big for Duke, as sophomore kicker Ross Martin became the first FBS kicker this season to hit two field goals from beyond 50 yards in a single game. His 51- and 53-yard field goals ended up being the deciding factor on a day that neither offense was at its best.
Racking up 198 yards and going 0-for-11 on third down, Duke's offense struggled. Quarterback Anthony Boone threw a career-high four interceptions, but the redshirt-junior recognized his team’s place in Duke football history.
“If I thought about my personal performance, that might have changed the outcome of the game,” Boone said. “It’s a team game.”
Even with all the records and postseason implications, Cutcliffe was adamant the victory, while sweet, was not bigger than program that he and his players have spent the past six seasons building. But he did admit that a bye week will be nice to let the players enjoy the victory.
“I’m awfully glad we’ve got an open date,” Cutcliffe said. “I think everyone’s a little bit on cloud nine now. They deserve to stay up there a few days.”