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The Blue Devils' win at Notre Dame was one of their few 2016 highlights as injuries played a major ...

The Chronicle's top 10 of 2016: Duke football rallies to stun Notre Dame as injuries mount



With the end of 2016 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics.

Coming in at No. 9 on our list: The Duke football team stunning Notre Dame on the road but losing another redshirt senior captain to a season-ending injury. 

Duke entered its Sept. 24 game at Notre Dame as a 20-point underdog against one of the nation’s most storied programs. And despite losing redshirt senior safety DeVon Edwards to a season-ending ACL tear early on and falling behind 14-0, the Blue Devils topped the Fighting Irish 38-35 in South Bend, Ind., to notch one of the biggest regular-season wins in program history.

Although Duke trailed 35-28 midway through the fourth quarter, head coach David Cutcliffe's team kept its poise and put itself in position to win the game. After the Fighting Irish took a seven-point lead with 7:46 left in the game, redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones connected with Anthony Nash for a 64-yard game-tying touchdown down the left sideline.

“We were just able to keep going. [Cutcliffe] preached to us, ‘We can beat them,’” said senior cornerback Breon Borders, who had five tackles, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. “We just stayed positive, stayed locked in, stayed focused and made a play when we had to.”

On the ensuing possession, the Blue Devils stepped up its defense, stifling Notre Dame on back to back plays before intercepting Fighting Irish quarterback Deshone Kizer to give the Duke offense a chance to take the lead.

The Blue Devils capitalized on the 10th play of the drive on a 4th-and-goal from the Notre Dame 1-yard line when freshman kicker A.J. Reed put his struggles aside and gave Duke a 38-35 lead on his first career field goal with 1:24 left in the game. 

The Blue Devils then held their own on defense again in order to escape with the win despite allowing 381 passing yards.

“We found out a little bit more about ourselves today and what our personality is and has to be to win,” Cutcliffe said. “Not all that complicated, we did the things we had to do to give ourselves a chance to win on the road and then found a way to win it in the fourth quarter.”

Duke’s offense came alive in the win. After scoring just 27 points combined in their previous two games, both disappointing double-digit losses, the Blue Devils proved their offense could move the ball without redshirt senior quarterback Thomas Sirk, who like Edwards had been lost for the season after injuring his Achilles.

His replacement, Jones, grew into his position as the season progressed. 

The Charlotte native finished the season with 2,836 yards and he completed 62.8 percent of his passes. Although Duke won just four games this season, Jones seems ready to lead to team once again in his redshirt sophomore campaign.

But even though the Blue Devils left South Bend with a win, Edwards' injury was part of an injury-plagued campaign that saw Duke's four-year bowl streak come to an end. 

Edwards, Sirk, redshirt senior running back Jela Duncan, senior cornerback Breon Borders and Nash all missed significant chunks of the season with ailments that resulted in an inexperienced unit on the field for most of the season. That inconsistency showed as the Blue Devils dropped five of their final six games.

READ MORE on Duke’s victory against Notre Dame and how injuries affected the rest of its season:

Stunner in South Bend: Duke scores 10 unanswered to escape with 38-35 win at Notre Dame

Duke football rebounds from disastrous start, 'heartbreaking' DeVon Edwards knee injury to upset Notre Dame

String of Duke football adjustments culminates in A.J. Reed's game-winning field goal at Notre Dame

Duke football season review: Offensedefense and special teams

Cautiously optimistic about Duke football's future

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown to date:

10. Duke rowing makes first-ever NCAA championship


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