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Squandered chances cost Blue Devils first ACC win

WINSTON-SALEM — Wake Forest and Duke, the only winless teams in the ACC, played for sole ownership of the bottom spot in the conference Saturday.

Despite posting over 400 yards of total offense, the Blue Devils’ inability to convert in the red zone allowed the Demon Deacons to slip by in a 24-22 win. With a strong running game anchored by running back Chris Barclay, Wake Forest (4-4, 1-4 in the ACC) kept the ball on the ground and dashed for 286 rushing yards.

“We need to finish drives and get touchdowns,” head coach Ted Roof said. “I saw a lot of improvement on offense and defense. I give Wake Forest credit, they played well and they are well-coached.”

Duke (1-7, 0-5) had a handful of opportunities on which it did not capitalize. With his team trailing 24-15 at the end of the third quarter, Blue Devils’ kicker Mike Brooks missed a 31-yard field goal attempt that would have brought Duke a mere touchdown away from the win. Brooks had made three in the first half, including a career-best 45-yard field goal that gave Duke the early 3-0 lead.

The Blue Devils fought hard in the latter minutes of the fourth quarter. Still leading 24-15, the Demon Deacons ran the ball against Duke’s tiring defense to the 26-yard line, where they attempted a field goal to push their lead to 12. The Blue Devils blocked the field goal and Malcolm Ruff recovered the ball for Duke. In the frenzy following the blocked kick, the Blue Devils tried anything to keep the ball alive, including forward laterals and illegal batting of the ball. Although Kenneth Stanford eventually wound up with the ball in the end zone, there were three flags on the ground and the ball was taken back to the Duke 28.

On the subsequent drive, however, quarterback Mike Schneider demonstrated his poise in the pocket. Schneider accumulated 300 passing yards, his career high, and completed passes to 10 receivers. With a little over a minute left on the clock and the ball on the three-yard line, Schneider found Ronnie Elliott in the front of the end zone. Brooks made the extra point and the Blue Devils were within two with a minute to play. The subsequent onside kick, went straight into the hands of Demon Deacon Eric King, who secured the ball and the win for Wake Forest.

Turnovers kept Duke from maximizing its potential Saturday. On the first drive of the game, the Blue Devil offense drove down field to the 8-yard line. On first-and-goal, Schneider completed a pass to Ben Patrick inches from the end zone, but Wake Forest’s Josh Gattis stripped the ball from Patrick and recovered it at the 1-yard line.

“We’ve got to take full advantage of opportunities once we get them down field,” Roof said. “Turnovers are costly, and they certainly were today. Putting everything together and executing is the main thing. We made some good plays and the defense held up well. I’m proud of the takeaways and blocked kicks.”

Schneider also fumbled the ball in the first quarter, but that did not result in points for the Demon Deacons.

Despite the fumble, Schneider had the game of his career. He orchestrated every play with growing confidence, completing 28 of his 45 attempts and tossing two touchdowns.

“Mike played well, he did a good job in directing the team,” Roof said. “He made good decisions and hit a lot of guys for gain and put them in position to score. I am proud of his overall performance.”

Schneider gave much of the credit to his offensive line, which had previously had trouble protecting the quarterback in the pocket. While the entire team was pleased with the improvements it had made, Roof acknowledged that the team had more work ahead.

“I am not satisfied with the way the players played against the rush today, and I don’t think they are either,” Roof said.

After keeping Wake Forest to only 21 total offensive yards in the first quarter, Duke could not capitalize on its dominance and keep the Demon Deacons at bay. Unable to score touchdowns, the Blue Devils were forced to settle for three field goals in the first half.

“I think we set a sustaining effort and the confidence was there today,” Elliott said. “Our game is improving, but it’s still disappointing. We must do a better job of executing the coach’s plays, especially in the red zone.”

Still winless in the conference, Duke has shown that it can get first downs and get into the red zone, but without scoring, the the Blue Devils cannot expect to win.

“We knew they would come to play hard and it was a good game, but we lost,” Stanford said. “We did a good job early on, but they just kept pounding the ball at us. It’s not offense or defense. We must win at all costs as a team.”

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