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Seniors search to salvage season

Opponents have outscored the Duke football team 384-156 this season. Counting just conference opponents, the margin is 318-74.

Despite the Blue Devils' inability to stay competitive, the team is focused on taking home the Victory Bell in Duke's final game of the season Saturday, a 1 p.m. showdown at North Carolina (4-5, 3-3 in the ACC)

"We come out every weekend trying to go home with a victory," senior Justin Kitchen said.

The Blue Devils (1-9, 0-7) have clearly fallen short of their goal, as put forth by Kitchen. Duke's only close losses came against its two Division I-A non-conference opponents, East Carolina and Navy-games the Blue Devils dropped by three and seven points, respectively. Duke's lone win came against Virginia Military Institute, a Division I-AA school.

Despite the plight of this year's squad, and regardless of how badly ACC opponents have crushed the Blue Devils, head coach Ted Roof is adamant that his team's goal remains the same.

"Our objective is not to stay close," Roof said. "Our objective is to win, and that's what our goal is every time we step out on the field. Staying close doesn't go into the computer."

In contrast to Duke, the Tar Heels have been very competitive in conference games this season. Their largest margin of defeat in an ACC game was an 18-point road loss against then-No. 6 Miami Oct. 29-the Blue Devils smallest ACC defeat was a 25-point home loss against Georgia Tech Oct. 15.

Moreover, UNC has wins under its belt against bowl-bound ACC opponents Virginia and Boston College. Last Saturday, battling Maryland in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels lost, 33-30, in overtime when kicker Connor Barth missed a 38-yard field goal attempt to send the game into a second overtime.

The bitter loss will only add motivation to a team with plenty of it, as the Tar Heels need to defeat Duke Saturday and beat Virginia Tech Nov. 26 in order to make a bowl game.

But senior defensive end Phillip Alexander said Duke will have significant motivation of its own in the seniors' final contest as Blue Devils.

"Beating Carolina at their place would definitely be a welcome win, a great win to go out," Alexander said. "You're only as good as your last game."

On the offensive side of the ball, Duke flashed potential in its recent 49-20 loss at Clemson, despite ranking third-to-last nationally in both passing and total offense. The team's 20 first downs was its highest total of the season against Division I-A competition.

Freshman quarterback Zack Asack, going 26-for-43 for 328 yards and a touchdown, became the first Blue Devil this season to surpass the 200-yard passing mark. Roof said to expect more of the same come Saturday.

"On offense, our focus is we have to continue to throw it around," Roof said. "But at the same time, we have to stay balanced."

Roof and the players also emphasized the value of coming off a bye week. After playing games for 10 straight weeks, having a full 14 days without one has given Duke two distinct advantages-a chance for extra preparation and the opportunity for injured players to heal.

"It was good to take some time off, allow these guys to focus on their academics a little bit," Roof said. "We did a lot of our heavy physical work at the end of last week and the beginning of this week, and now I want to make sure we take a fresh team to Chapel Hill. We are just trying to go over every situation that could possibly come up."

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