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Duke blows lead, last-second kick

With only a quarter remaining in Duke's game against Connecticut, it seemed as if Duke might walk away with a rare road victory. The Huskies, however, scored 16 unanswered points and left the Blue Devils with a due or die drive. Duke responded, but after the team fought its way inside the redzone, Matt Brooks missed a 37-year field goal wide left.

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — With six seconds left on the clock at a sold-out Rentschler Field, Duke kicker Matt Brooks set up for his third field goal attempt of the game, just 36 yards from a Duke victory. The more than 40,000 fans in attendance collectively held their breath as the low kick soared through the air. As it curved to the left of the post, the crowd exhaled in jubilation and the Connecticut players rejoiced all over the field.

It was the only Brooks field goal miss on the day—a miss that gave the Huskies (2-0) a 22-20 victory over the now 0-2 Blue Devils.

“The loss was not just a result of the missed field goal. There were several plays we are going to take a look at,” Duke head coach Ted Roof said. “We made several good plays... we just needed to make one more.”

Until the field goal miss, Duke came through when it needed to during a messy but effective final drive. The Blue Devils faced 4th and 17 inside Connecticut territory with less than a minute remaining when quarterback Mike Schneider delivered a blistering 23-yard completion to Ronnie Elliott on the right side.

On the ensuing play Aaron Fryer took a handoff from Schneider but could only muster two yards. After the teams called successive timeouts, Brooks came on, only to miss.

At the start of the fourth, it did not seem like the outcome would depend on a last-second field goal. The Blue Devils had a 20-6 lead before the Huskies roared back with 16 unanswered points to take their first lead since the opening quarter.

A 13-play touchdown drive ended with a one-yard run by Cornell Brockington, who carried the ball six times during the series.

With one touchdown separating the Huskies and the Blue Devils on the scoreboard and 10 minutes remaining, a UConn interception brought it even closer. On the second play of the drive Justin Perkins intercepted a Chris Dapolito pass, running it back for a 27-yard touchdown.

“The interception return for a touchdown was a big turning point in the game. It was a late throw and the DB made a good break on it,” said Dapolito who started and ran the offense until he was pulled for Schneider at the start of Duke’s final drive.

Casey Comero prevented the Huskies from tying the game when he blocked UConn’s point-after attempt. The Blue Devils, however, were unable to take advantage, going three and out on its next position. And even though UConn was flagged for excessive celebration after sacking Dapolito, the 15-yard penalty did not even give Duke a first down.

With the ball back, the Huskies moved down the field and took the lead on a 21-yard field goal with 3:40 remaining.

Especially in the fourth quarter, UConn’s All-American caliber quarterback Dan Orlovsky picked apart a young Duke secondary. The Huskies targeted true freshman Daniel Charbonnet, who was playing in place of injured co-captain Kenneth Stanford.

Orlovsky had his way with the Duke defense throughout the game, but in the red zone, Duke slowed the passing attack. Orlovsky threw five touchdown passes last weekend, but could not marshall a single TD against the Blue Devils. The quarterback completed 23-of-34 attempts for 290 yards on the afternoon.

“We knew that they are a great passing team and that they have a very good quarterback,” cornerback John Talley said. “We just tried to go out there and take care of our responsibilities.”

Talley took it upon himself to give the Blue Devils an early lead, intercepting an Orlovsky pass for a 62-yard touchdown return. During the run back, co-captain defensive end Phillip Alexander broke his lower left leg blocking for Talley. Alexander, who has a redshirt year remaining if he chooses to use it, will be out for most of the season.

Surprising many, Roof started Dapolito and stuck with his more mobile quarterback well into the fourth. In his second career start, Dapolito had career highs with 21 pass attempts and 12 completions for 129 yards.

On the final drive, when the Blue Devils needed to focus on the passing game, Roof pulled Dapolito for Schneider. The coach said his decision was based on Schneider’s comfort in the pocket.

“He [Schneider] executed. [He] got us down there and gave us a chance to win at the end,” Roof said.

Extra pressure was put on the quarterbacks because starting running back Cedric Dargan played sparingly, only carrying the ball eight times for 21 yards. Dargan injured his leg against Navy.

For the second consecutive week, Duke was unable to maintain a lead. The Huskies have been a terrific closing team of late, with four of their last seven victories coming in the final 30 seconds.

“I couldn’t have lived with myself if I didn’t give my team a chance to win at the end,” Roof said. “I’m proud of the effort. I’m proud of the way we fought and thought that we really emptied our tank today.”

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