The Duke football team finally earned an ACC win Saturday with a 16-13 last-second victory over Clemson, which sent fans streaming over the walls of Wallace Wade Stadium.
Duke kicker Matt Brooks lined a 53-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired. With a strong wind at his back and the stadium silent, Brooks cleared the crossbar on a line-drive kick that ended Duke’s four-game losing streak.
After missing a potential game-winning attempt against Connecticut Sept. 11, Brooks redeemed himself Saturday.
“The only thought I had about the UConn game was I wanted to stay away from people,” said Brooks, who walked more than 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage as Clemson took a timeout before the kick. “I knew I had hit enough balls in the net and my leg was loose. I just had to stay relaxed.”
Duke (2-8, 1-6 in the ACC) has blown several leads during a frustrating season, but the offense finally mounted a late-game surge against the Tigers (5-5, 4-4).
“I am really proud of our kids and our coaches,” head coach Ted Roof said. “It is a testament of what they have been through, and they keep coming to work, keep believing and keep fighting. Today, after we got done with our work, we got a paycheck.”
With the game tied at 13, cornerback Deonto McCormick intercepted a Charlie Whitehurst pass at the 50-yard line and returned it eight yards to set the Blue Devils up to receive their “paycheck.” After two complete passes that advanced the ball six yards, Duke faced fourth-and-four at the Clemson 36.
Despite his team’s field position, Roof said he never considered letting the clock run out to send the game into overtime.
“I wanted to make sure those kids got a chance to win the ballgame at the end,” Roof said.
Early in the fourth quarter, Clemson jumped out to a 13-6 lead with its only touchdown. The Tigers capitalized on a first-and-goal situation when running back Reggie Merriweather ducked his head and drove three yards into the end zone.
Clemson held its lead for most of the remaining time, as the next four possessions ended in punts.
Duke’s three-minute drive spurred by six complete Mike Schneider passes for 51 yards ended in a touchdown and a 13-13 tie. With just 1:21 remaining, Ronnie Drummer caught a pass out of the backfield, juked a defender and scampered into the left side of the end zone.
Schneider—who threw for 213 yards and completed 20-of-31 attempts—left the game in the third after being sacked by Charles Bennett. The hit left Schneider with a “stinger in his neck,” but he returned for the following possession.
The Tigers sacked Schneider five times on the afternoon, extinguishing several of the Blue Devils’ offensive opportunities. This lack of protection was one of the many problems that plagued both Duke and Clemson for much of the afternoon.
In the first half, the teams struggled offensively. Whitehurst completed only 6-of-12 passes with one interception while Duke netted 13 rushing yards on 20 runs. These 30 minutes included five punts and four turnovers, and the only scoring came on four field goals, which left the score knotted at six.
On its second possession of the game, Clemson seemed to be gaining momentum when a 40-yard Charlie Whitehurst pass gave the Tigers a first-and-goal opportunity. After safety Alex Green stopped two Merriweather rushes, Clemson opted for the 20-yard field goal on fourth-and-goal, which gave the visitors an early 3-0 lead. The Blue Devil defense allowed the Tigers to convert only 1-of-12 third-downs and 0-of-2 fourth downs.
To begin Duke’s next possession, freshman Chris Davis returned the kick 23 yards to the Blue Devils’ 32. After Schneider completed three passes for 41 yards and Clemson picked up a holding penalty, Duke had a first down at the nine-yard line. Facing strong Tigers’ coverage, Schneider heaved two incomplete passes. Brooks then tied the game at three with a 27-yard kick, his first of three field goals.
Despite only getting three points from a first-and-goal situation, Duke appeared poised for an offensive surge.
The Blue Devils made another push, stripping Clemson on the next play. Lionel Richardson fumbled a kickoff return, and Drummer quickly recovered the ball to send Duke back to offense on the Clemson 19-yard line. Again, after two short rushes and an incomplete pass, the Blue Devils gave the ball to Brooks, who kicked a 21-yard field goal to give his team a 6-3 edge.
Clemson again tied the game on a second-quarter 32-yard field goal.
The Duke defense held the Tigers—who upset Miami last week—under their season scoring average. The Blue Devils now lead the ACC with 25 takeaways this season.
“I think our defensive coaches did a great job,” Roof said. “If you look at some of the things—turnover battle, time of possession and what they were on third down. If the defense gets off the field and the offense takes care of the football, good things will happen to you.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.