All week long leading up to the Navy game, head coach Ted Roof preached to his team the importance of getting off to a fast start.
In the two previous weeks against Miami and Vanderbilt, Roof's Blue Devils staged exciting second-half comeback rallies, only to fall short of erasing large first-half deficits.
"We challenged the offense before the game," Roof said. "We said, 'OK, if we win the toss and get the football, you guys are going to score.'"
Duke did win the toss Saturday afternoon, and the Blue Devils quickly knifed through Navy's defense for a score just two minutes into the game. For a brief moment, it appeared as if the Blue Devils' slow-start troubles were a problem of the past.
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But with the scoreboard reading "Duke 6, Navy 0," placekicker Joe Surgan missed the extra point wide right. From there, the Blue Devils never looked like the same team that executed so well on the first drive.
"I thought that was a little bit of a momentum deal for us," Roof said of the missed extra point.
Many of the same mistakes that have plagued Duke all season-including kicking woes, procedural penalties on offense and poor tackling on defense-ultimately flattened any chance of beating Navy.
After Navy's triple option ripped through Duke's defense for a touchdown on its first offensive drive, the Blue Devil offense was backed up by a holding penalty and an illegal shift called on wideout Raphael Chestnut. The first-and-25 situation led to a short punt that was returned 44 yards to Duke's 25-yard line, and the Midshipmen punched it in for a touchdown soon after.
Duke was flagged for yet another procedural penalty on its next drive for an ineligible receiver downfield. After another Alex Feinberg punt, Navy scored again to go up, 21-6.
Although Roof may not have agreed with the calls, this was not the first time this season Duke's wideouts have been called for procedural penalties. When Duke made its comeback bid against a talented but undermanned Miami team, the Blue Devils were whistled twice on the final drive for having an ineligible man downfield.
Wideout Eron Riley said the team had worked on making sure such penalties would not occur, but poor communication with the game officials may have contributed to the penalties being called.
By the time the offense got itself back in synch, the Midshipmen were already up 24-6 with time winding down in the first half. Duke's offense drove down the field aiming to make it a two-score game heading into the break.
In stepped Surgan, who continued his mercurial season with another blocked field goal attempt. Surgan's 29-yard attempt-which Roof said looked like it might have come out low-was the kicker's third blocked field goal of the season. The sophomore has missed three of his 10 point-after attempts this year and has connected on just three of his nine field-goal tries.
With the Blue Devils' struggling in peripheral aspects of the game, Navy took advantage of Duke's defense. After the first drive, the game's result never appeared in question.
While Duke continues on its winless 2006 campaign, the answers have not come easily for the team's coaches or players.
"We're still coming out and playing our hardest," Riley said. "We just have to make plays when we have the opportunity to-a dropped pass here, a bad ball there, a missed block or tackle-we're not making plays when they're coming to us."
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