Duke proved its late-game dominance again Saturday, blanking the Demon Deacons in the game's final period to secure its ninth win of the season and at least a share of the ACC's Coastal Division title.
"I think it's a tribute to Jim Knowles and the defensive staff and their ability to adjust. It's also a tribute to some older players that we finally have become systematic defensively," Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. "We have answers. They do this, and we do this. That's one of the great beliefs that we have is that you have to be systematic. I think it's helped us play better as the game goes."
Duke has outscored opponents 117-34 in the final period of play, the best fourth-quarter scoring margin in the FBS.
After going down 14-0 in the first quarter, the Blue Devils stormed back to tie the game 14-14 heading into the locker room at half time. Wake Forest scored on its opening drive of the second half but would not put points on the board for the rest of the game.
Duke registered two touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 28-21 lead, and then sat back and let its defense do the work in the fourth quarter to finish off the Demon Deacons.
"Our model is to finish," senior cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "We've been talking about it all year long, and we're going to continue to talk about it. We know that when the game gets tough, it's in the fourth quarter. That's when you have to be at your best."
After going up by a touchdown with a little more than three minutes left in the third quarter, the Blue Devils had perhaps their most important defensive stand of the whole game.
Wake Forest was able to move the ball from its own 25-yard line to Duke's 23-yard line in 12 plays. Tanner Price fired incomplete on first down, and then the Demon Deacons committed a false start penalty to bring up second-and-15. Price dropped back again to pass but was swallowed up by defensive end Kenny Anunike for a seven-yard loss. The sixth-year senior sacked Price again on third down, this time for a loss of 13 yards.
"I just had a fire in my eyes. I just wanted to go out there and get it," Anunike said. "Coupled with our defensive coordinator's perfect call, I just went out there and executed."
The penalty and two sacks from Anunike pushed Wake Forest out of field goal range and forced them to punt, keeping the Demon Deacons off the board to start the fourth quarter.
"Kenny is a playmaker for us," Cockrell said. "That's why we call him the Night Train. We go as he goes. We jump on his back and he carries us. For him to make those play for us was huge."
After a quick punt on Duke's ensuing possession, Wake Forest again took over looking to tie the game. But a forced fumble recovered by redshirt-junior linebacker Kelby Brown again kept the Demon Deacons off the board.
Kicker Ross Martin missed a 48-yard field goal attempt on the Blue Devils' next drive, setting Wake Forest up at their own 30-yard line with 4:11 left to play in the game. Down one touchdown, the Demon Deacons picked up just one first down before Cockrell intercepted Price's pass over the middle and sealed the win for Duke.
"They had been running a drive route, a deep in-route. They hit us on it a couple times trying to attack the middle of the field," Cockrell said. "I was fortunate enough to see it, and I made a good jump."
The Blue Devils have allowed just three offensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter all season. With the offense stalling late against Wake Forest, the defense came up big, as it has all year.
"That's our goal is to outplay a team for 60 minutes, three-and-a-half hours," Brown said. "The fourth quarter is big for us—it really has been this year."