Cedric Dargan’s leaping attempt to clear the goal line from one yard away on third down was stuffed by the Virginia defense. Undeterred, the junior running back landed on his feet and tried to sneak the ball past the goal line, but he came up just short. On fourth down, quarterback Mike Schneider’s throw to a wide-open Ronnie Elliott fell just short of the receiver.
Just like that, a drive that could have given Duke a 14-13 lead with less than three and a half minutes remaining in the first half ended instead with no points for the Blue Devils and a major momentum swing Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Duke fell to No. 14 Virginia, 37-16, in a contest that was closer for much of the game than the final score would indicate. The Blue Devils’ offensive creativity and effort allowed them to hang in the game before the Cavaliers’ running attack quashed any upset hopes.
“We were able to move the ball on a couple drives when we wanted to, but if you don’t come out with any points you’re not going to win the game,” said tight end Ben Patrick, who had a team-high five receptions and 97 yards. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board, go back to work tomorrow and figure out what we can do in the red zone to finish it off.”
Meanwhile, Virginia (6-1, 3-1 in the ACC) racked up 348 yards on the ground in 61 attempts. Senior tailback Alvin Pearman led the way, carrying 38 times for 223 yards, and Wali Lundy made the most of his 11 carries, rushing for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Despite a number of changes in defensive alignment and strategy, Duke (1-6, 0-4) was unable to contain the Cavalier’s running game.
“We tried everything—man, zone,” Duke head coach Ted Roof said. “We’ve just got to disengage from blocks and make the tackles.”
Duke’s failure to contain Virginia’s ground game stood out from the start. After Duke took a 7-0 lead because of excellent field position, a timely Cavalier penalty and a 20-yard trick pass from wide receiver Deon Adams to running back Ronnie Drummer, Virginia looked to its experienced offensive line to pave the way.
Pearman ran the ball 10 straight times through huge holes—though never for more than 13 yards—down to the Duke one-yard line. Lundy entered the game and easily rushed across the goal line on his first play, tying the game.
The next two Virginia drives also relied heavily on the running game, but the Blue Devils were able to come up with defensive stands inside their own 20-yard line, holding the Cavaliers to two field goals.
On a drive that started with under eight minutes remaining in the first half, Duke stormed downfield. Elliott caught two passes for more than 30 yards each, the first from Schneider and the second from Adams, a former high school quarterback, on a wide-receiver reverse pass. Despite five plays from inside the Cavalier five-yard line, including Schneider’s fourth-down incompletion, the Blue Devils failed to score.
Virginia was able to capitalize on its defensive stand, following with 90 yards—including 47 rushing yards from tailback Michael Johnson—in a little more than three minutes. Cavalier kicker Connor Hughes kicked a 27-yard field goal, stretching the lead to 16-7 at the end of the half.
“Instead of being a tie ballgame, we’re down nine,” Roof said. “We re-seized the momentum and then they went back down the field.”
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As the second half opened, the teams traded punts before disaster struck the Blue Devils again. Duke lined up in an extremely spread-out punt formation with punter Trey McDonald especially shallow. Virginia linebacker Jon Thompson blocked the punt and the Cavaliers recovered at the Duke 28-yard line. Five plays later, Lundy bulled his way into the end zone from 15 yards out, giving Virginia a 23-7 lead.
The Blue Devils were able to fight back into the game on their next two drives, eventually cutting the deficit to seven.
Patrick led the way to a Duke touchdown, catching third-down passes in long yardage situations. Schneider capped the drive off with his second touchdown pass of the day on a three-yard pass to a wide-open Calen Powell. The Blue Devils’ two-point conversion failed, and the score was 23-13.
After a defensive stop on Virginia’s next drive, Duke capitalized on its field position, and Matt Brooks kicked a 27-yard field goal.
With its lead dwindling, Virginia marched 70 yards to score a touchdown with less than 12 minutes remaining. Although Roof said that his defense may have worn down late in the game, his players disagreed.
“We got a little tired, but we’ve faced situations like this all season,” linebacker Brandon Dewan said. “You’ve got two options: You can say, ‘Ah, I’m tired,’ or you can keep coming.”
An intentional grounding call on Schneider at the Cavalier’s 21-yard line stalled the next Blue Devil drive, and Virginia regained possession.
Despite the best efforts of Duke’s defense, which forced two third-and-long situations, the Cavaliers’ next drive put the game out of reach, as quarterback Marques Hagans’ threw a touchdown pass to Deyon Williams with less than three minutes remaining.