For the first time in head coach David Cutcliffe’s seven-year tenure, Duke won a game without scoring a touchdown.
Despite a sluggish performance on the gridiron from the offense, the special teams units rose to the occasion and picked up the slack. Senior kicker Ross Martin supplied the heroics in Saturday’s 9-7 win against defensive-minded Boston College, hitting three field goals despite rainy and windy conditions to extend his record to 9-9 on the season. Although the Eagles made an offensive push in the final minutes of the contest, Duke’s defense once again held firm to secure the victory.
“We know as a team that it’s going to take all three phases to win games against tough opponents in the ACC,” quarterback Thomas Sirk said. “It’s going to take offense, special teams and defense to win football games. We have to come in each game and win as a team.”
Both sides were slow to generate offensive production in Saturday’s contest. Sirk finally found some success through the air on Duke's third possession of the contest, hitting true freshman T.J. Rahming and redshirt junior Jela Duncan to put the Blue Devils in the red zone. Once they got there, however, Duke struggled to convert, forcing Martin to come in. The Solon, Ohio, native drilled a 36-yard field goal to put the Blue Devils on the board late in the first quarter.
Duke enjoyed another long drive—featuring 59 yards in the air from Sirk—to open the second quarter, but once again, the Blue Devil offense looked primed to score before stalling in the red zone. Martin returned to the field to convert another field goal—this time from 38 yards out—nearly five minutes into the quarter.
“We believe that we’re best when we blend offense, defense and kicking,” Cutcliffe said. “If one side is limping, the other side runs a little faster. That’s what you call team responsibility. We weren’t as consistent [today]—thank goodness Ross was.”
On its third consecutive drive, Sirk and the Duke offense drove downfield by avoiding the ground game and instead opting to stretch the field through short passes targeting the middle of the field. Once again, though, the Blue Devils struggled to punch it in for a touchdown. Martin stepped in one last time, tying his career-long with a 53-yarder—this time against the wind—for his third score of the game to give Duke all nine of its points on the afternoon.
The two-time All-America and three-time All-ACC kicker has yet to miss a field goal attempt this season after going 19-for-21 in 2014. Martin currently leads the Blue Devils with 41 total points this season and is Duke’s all-time leader in total points. The senior has scored at least one point in each of Duke’s last 45 games. Among active kickers nationally, Martin ranks second in field goals, third in total points, fourth in PAT percentage, fifth in PATs, eighth in field goal percentage, 10th in points per game and 11th in field goals per game.
“People will ask me ‘Do you get nervous?’—which of course I do,” Martin said. “It’s just a matter of controlling that and harnessing that extra energy into a positive. I’m a lot better at that now than I was freshman year.”
The Blue Devil offense sputtered in the second half, with Sirk going 8-for-18 to pick up 57 yards. Duke struggled even more on the ground, picking up just 16 rush yards in the final two quarters. Had it not been for the staunch Duke defense that limited the Eagles’ offense to just seven points—which came on a long touchdown pass—and an average of 4.0 yards per rush, the Blue Devils may have faltered down the stretch.
Boston College quarterback Troy Flutie led a late fourth-quarter drive to the Duke 27-yard line to put the Eagles in position to score and take the lead. After the Blue Devil defense held off Boston College’s signature inside running attack, kicker Colton Lichtenberg missed a 45-yard field goal attempt wide left. After Will Monday came on to put one last time following an unproductive Duke series, Duke’s defense stepped up to stall the final Boston College threat to close out the win with 2:16 left on the clock.
“I give so much credit to our defense,” Sirk said. “Those guys go out and compete and we have so much confidence in them. I wasn’t even getting nervous because it’s kind of expected for them to get a stop.”
Although the combined efforts of the defense and the special teams were just enough to hold off the Eagles Saturday afternoon, the Blue Devils will struggle to win without a balanced effort from all three groups. Cutcliffe’s offense—historically his strong suit—has lacked consistency, especially in the second half. Duke has only converted on 39 percent of third downs this season, and in the final 30 minutes Saturday, that figure dropped to 20 percent. The Blue Devils have tallied just one offensive touchdown in the second half of their last three games.
Duke has nearly ceded the victory in the final minutes of its last two games, something the Blue Devils will need to correct as they move further into ACC play to avoid piling pressure-filled situations on the defense's shoulders.
“Next week we have to come out and treat the second half just like we do the first and be consistent,” Sirk said. “It’s going to take consistency the rest of the year to make [wins] happen. That’s something we have to continue to get better at. We had chances today in the second half to score touchdowns and we just didn’t take advantage. We have to finish those drives.”
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