Late push gives Blue Devils 27-10 victory at Syracuse

Senior Jamison Crowder's 52-yard punt return for a touchdown sparked the Blue Devils 17-point fourth quarter outburst Saturday.
Senior Jamison Crowder's 52-yard punt return for a touchdown sparked the Blue Devils 17-point fourth quarter outburst Saturday.

SYRACUSE, N.Y.—Most games are not decided on downs where the punting unit is on the field, but Saturday's game between Duke and Syracuse came down to just that.

Blue Devil punter Will Monday kept the Orange pinned deep inside their own territory for most of the second half, and returner Jamison Crowder returned a Syracuse punt 52 yards in the fourth quarter for the touchdown that put Duke ahead for good, as the Blue Devils defeated the Orange 27-10 Saturday on the road at the Carrier Dome.

"Every part of our team contributed," Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. "Certainly the kicking game, we all saw that was evident. Not only Jamison's but DeVon's return [called back due to a holding penalty], Will Monday and the punting, Ross Martin, Jack Willoughby and the kickoff coverage. Every part of our game kicked in in the kicking game."

With the score tied 10-10 early in the fourth quarter, No.22 Duke (8-1, 4-1 in the ACC) faced a third-and-three from the Syracuse 40-yard line. Quarterback Anthony Boone lofted a deep pass to Crowder near the goal line, but senior cornerback Brandon Reddish out-muscled Crowder and came down with the interception at the two-yard line.

But the turnover turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Blue Devils. Backed up to their own end zone, the Orange (3-7, 1-5 ACC) could not move the ball and were forced to punt from deep within their own endzone. With Duke showing pressure on the punt, Syracuse could not get coverage on Crowder downfield. The senior handled the punt and took off, going untouched 52 yards for the score.

On the Orange's ensuing possession, facing a fourth-and-four from its own 31-yard line, Syracuse prepared to punt the ball away. But instead of playing it safe, the Orange faked the punt and ran the ball up the middle. The Blue Devils stopped the attempt and capitalized on the miscue five plays later with Ross Martin's second field goal of the day to go up by 10.

"We knew we were going to get something. That was a great stop at a great point in the game," Cutcliffe said.

Syracuse's fourth-string quarterback Mitch Kimble, who replaced third-stringer Austin Wilson after the first half, threw a deep interception to Breon Borders on the Orange's next possession. Borers pick—his second of the day—seemed to seal the game.

Three plays later, Boone completed a 54-yard touchdown pass to Issac Blakeney, and Syracuse fans began their exodus from the Carrier Dome.

"It was a 50-50 ball, and my coach always told me, 'If you want to be great and go to the next level, then you have to win those 50-50 balls,'" Blakeney said. "It was good to win one of those, haven't won one of those in awhile."

The fourth quarter capped off what had been a low-scoring, back-and-forth affair between the two teams, with nine combined three-and-outs and only 20 total points up to that point.

After trading a pair of field goals to start the game, the offensive production dried up almost entirely for both sides.

The Duke offense put together its best first drive of half at the start of the second quarter. After beginning the drive on their own nine-yard line, Boone completed back-to-back third-and-long passes to Crowder for first downs to give the Blue Devils some breathing room. Duke moved the ball to the Syracuse 22-yard line, where it faced a critical third-and-four. Boone completed a short pass to Issac Blakeney in the flat, where he shed the only defender in his area and took the ball to the house for the score. The Martin extra point put Duke on top 10-3 to end the first half scoring.

"I had a little space, so when I caught the ball it kind of surprised me how [the Syracuse cornerback] shot one me," Blakeney said. "I was able to use my size and strength to stiff arm him, and then it was a race to the touchdown with the safety, and I won it."

The third quarter began looked similar to the majority of the first half, with both teams failing to build any momentum on offense.

With Kimble at the helm, the Syracuse offense showed signs of life on its third rive of the second half. The redshirt freshman marched the Orange 67 yards down the field on nine plays and capped the drive with an eight-yard scamper into the end zone.

Then the Duke defense and special teams units took over and closed the door on Syracuse. The Blue Devils scored 17 points in less than six minutes to finish off the upset-minded Orange.

"Will is the best punter I've ever been around. That's a weapon," Cutcliffe said. "When we choose to punt, we're going to gain 40 yards net. I don't have another play in the offense that's going to gain 40 yards a play. Will Monday gives you that opportunity."

Duke will return to Wallace Wade Stadium next Saturday to take on Virginia Tech at noon.


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