CHAPEL HILL—One of David Cutcliffe's messages to his team at the beginning of the 2013 season was to play games to win, rather than playing to avoid losing. Ten victories later, the Blue Devil head coach's words ring as true as the Victory Bell.
Saturday’s 27-25 victory against North Carolina marked the fourth time this season Duke has entered the fourth quarter trailing and managed to fight back and secure the victory. Thanks to another big performance from DeVon Edwards and a final stand from the defense, the Blue Devils answered everything the Tar Heels threw at them and walked away from Kenan Stadium as Coastal Division champions.
“Duke Blue Devils [are] not scared of any dogfight,” Edwards said. “We were happy. We said on the sideline we were made for this—nobody else is made for this. We could fight all the way to end no matter who we’re going against so that’s just our type of ballgame. We’re going to bring it every time.”
The first play of the second quarter resulted in Tar Heel punter Tommy Hibbard hitting a textbook coffin-corner punt that bounced out-of-bounds at the Blue Devils’ 2-yard line. But the Blue Devils stuck with their balanced attack and proceeded to churn out their longest drive of the year in terms of yards, time and plays. The drive, which covered 95 yards on 17 plays in 8:26, resulted in a Ross Martin field goal.
“It’s just a mentality that the team has grown to get. If we’re down, we just always have that mentality to fight back,” Crowder said. “We knew it was a crucial ballgame and we knew what was on the line, what was at stake, so anytime we got down, we just felt like we needed to make plays and we were able to do that both offensively and defensively.”
Edwards has been the big-time finisher for Duke this season. After scoring three touchdowns against N.C. State to cement the victory, the redshirt freshman showed up again when Duke needed him most Saturday.
After North Carolina scored and converted a two-point conversion with 1:30 left in the half, the Tar Heels seemed poised to enter the locker room with a 10-7 lead. But Edwards had other plans, as he took the kickoff 99 yards to the end zone to put Duke back in the lead just 11 seconds later.
“I feel like we shocked them [on the kickoff return] because they thought we were going to fall over like Duke has done in the past,” Edwards said. “I don’t think they were ready for the new nation of the Blue Devils.”
It was the final six minutes of the game that really proved that this Duke team is different from those of years past. On the drive following a North Carolina field goal that signaled a 10-0 run and gave the Tar Heels a 25-24 lead, Anthony Boone felt the blitz coming and found Jela Duncan out of the backfield on second-and-10 from the Blue Devils’ 38-yard line. The sophomore running back took the ball 29 yards to North Carolina’s 33-yard line. The drive would conclude with Ross Martin's go-ahead field goal with 2:22 left in the contest.
“This team’s mantra all year has been to finish,” Harding said. “We knew that we were capable of that and we expected that. We knew that the offense had to put together a huge drive in hostile territory against a very good defense and we did what we had to do to win.”
On the following North Carolina drive, a facemask penalty against Duke gave the Tar Heels a fresh set of downs at their own 25-yard line. Then on fourth-and-5, Williams dropped back, eluded the rush and picked up a first down with a 10-yard scramble into Duke territory to breathe new life into his team's comeback hopes.
But this Blue Devil defense was determined not to make the mistakes they had in the past. On second-and-10 from Duke’s 49-yard line, pressure from defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo forced Williams’ pass to sail over his receivers’ hands and into the arms of Edwards, securing the win and the division crown.
“It went back to all three phases,” Cutcliffe said. “The offense got it down there, we had to kick an extra point, we had to cover a kickoff, we had to get out there and play defense. All three phases in that last three, four minutes of the game had to step up and make plays to enable us to win.”