Seniors star in Duke football's 41-21 win against Wake Forest

Senior Jamison Crowder hauled in another long touchdown for Duke Saturday night.
Senior Jamison Crowder hauled in another long touchdown for Duke Saturday night.

The Blue Devils didn't take long Saturday night to rebound from last week's loss to rival North Carolina, jumping out to an early lead against Wake Forest on their way to a 41-21 victory.

Big plays on special teams and stout second half defense led Duke to its ninth win of the season and a second-place finish in the ACC's Coastal Division.

"I told our team, 'We are going to play to win this game,'" Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. "We felt like we had some big opportunities down the field, and those proved to be big for us."

Duke (9-3, 5-3 in the ACC) took advantage of big plays in the kicking game in the first half to take an early lead.

The Blue Devils' opening drive of the game resulted in a touchdown thanks in part to a 46-yard kickoff return by DeVon Edwards. Redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Boone took advantage of the short field and marched the Duke offense 47 yards down the field to put the Blue Devils on top early.

Wake Forest (3-9, 1-7) responded with a touchdown drive of its own and then forced a Duke punt after a stalled drive. Jared Crump fielded Will Monday's punt near his own 30-yard line but lost control of the ball before taking a big hit. The Blue Devils recovered the fumble and punched the ball into the end zone five plays later on an eight-yard run by freshman Shaun Wilson.

The big special teams plays did not all come by chance, though.

"I told our staff and our squad that after our second score, regardless of circumstance, we're going to onside kick," Cutcliffe said.

On the ensuing kickoff, Jack Willoughby squibbed the ball across the middle of the field and recovered his own onside kick at Duke's 48-yard line. Boone took the first snap of the drive and connected with senior wide-out Jamison Crowder on a 52-yard touchdown pass to put the Blue Devils up 21-7.

"When I saw the ball bounce up to my hands, it was just a great feeling," Willoughby said. "That's the first time in my lifetime in football that I've touched a ball with my hands."

It looked like Duke might put the Demon Deacons in an ever bigger hole after Wake Forest botched a punt attempt in its own territory and turned the ball over to the Blue Devils at the 30-yard line. But Duke turned the ball back over on a fourth-and-12, failing to capitalize on the short field. The Demon Deacons responded with a touchdown drive of their own, and a pair of field goals capped the first half scoring. Led by Boone's passing efficiency and big plays on special teams, Duke headed to the locker room with a comfortable 13-point lead.

Wake Forest took the opening drive of the second half 80 yards for a touchdown to pull within one score, but that's as far as the Demon Deacons' comeback would go. The Blue Devils marched the ball all the way to Wake Forest's three-yard line before offensive lineman Casey Blaser recovered Thomas Sirk's fumble in the end zone to put Duke back up by 13 points.

"I saw the ball pop out and my instant reaction was to try and run and go get it," Blaser said. "I've never scored a touchdown actually. That was my very first one."

The big man's touchdown would mark the end of the third-quarter scoring, as the game slowed and both teams' defensive units took over.

The Blue Devils stopped two crucial fourth-down attempts by the Demon Deacons in the third quarter—both coming inside the Duke 25-yard line—to keep Wake Forest off the board and preserve a two-score lead.

"It was really fitting for senior night and for all this stuff, with so much emotion tied to it," senior linebacker David Helton said. "Both those stops really ignited us, defensively, but also as a team."

The Blue Devil offense looked sluggish for much of the second half, but managed to salt away most of the fourth quarter with a steady rushing attack, and Duke's defense shut out the Demon Deacons after their third quarter touchdown drive.

After a Wake Forest three-and-out, the Blue Devils took over at their own 23-yard line with 12 minutes left to play. Thomas Sirk, normally a run-first quarterback, put the final nail in the coffin to cap a six-minute drive, completing one of his famous Tim Tebow-like jump passes to David Reeves for an 18-yard touchdown.

"I'm really proud of the way we picked up steam and ran the football," Cutcliffe said. "And that one drive that ended in the little pass to David Reeves was a thing of beauty."

In a game that stayed close into the third quarter, Duke missed several opportunities to bury the Demon Deacons much earlier in the game. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils managed to close out the 2014 regular season with a solid conference win and improve their resume for the approaching bowl game selections.


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