Duke looked poised to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat—until Miami stole it back on the game's final play.
Following a Blue Devil two-point conversion to put Duke ahead 27-24, kicker Ross Martin squibbed the ensuing kickoff down to the Miami 25-yard line, where a myriad of laterals sent the ball flying around the field deep inside Hurricane territory. Eventually, punt returner Corn Elder got his hands on the ball and zoomed past the Blue Devil kickoff coverage for a return touchdown as time expired, giving the Hurricanes a 30-27 win on Halloween night at Wallace Wade Stadium.
At first, the play was called back for a block in back near the Duke 25-yard line just before Elder marched into the end zone. After a lengthy review, head referee Jerry Magallanes turned on his microphone to deliver the outcome:
"After review, there was never a knee down by any of the runners of Miami. However, the block in question was from the side, not from the back. It is a legal play. Touchdown. The game is over."
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said he was confused and shocked on the sideline, and did not get any communication from officials prior to the announcement that dealt the No. 22 Blue Devils their first conference loss.
“I can’t tell you what happened or what the sequence was,” he said.
With the penalty changed and the touchdown good, interim head coach Larry Scott’s team erupted in celebration.
Following the game, questions remained about whether or not running back Mark Walton was down before pitching the ball during the return and whether it was appropriate to pick up a flag against Miami for a block in the back. Additionally, replay footage showed at least one Hurricane player running onto the field before Elder crossed the plane, which would have been a dead-ball penalty for 12 men on the field.
Cutcliffe was preparing his defense for one last stand after the penalty—but it never occurred.
“Nobody ever suggested that [the touchdown was going to count],” Cutcliffe said. “I was coaching our defense for if they tried to take a shot at the end zone.”
Regardless of the questions, the outcome following the eight-minute review was clear: Miami pulled off a miracle at Wallace Wade on Halloween night.
“I would like the whole play reviewed in detail,” Cutcliffe said. “I thought the guy was down and I think pictures will prove me right.”
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Before the last second fireworks stole the show, redshirt junior quarterback Thomas Sirk led the Blue Devils on a fierce comeback that set up the finish.
After a Miami field goal extended the lead to 24-12 with 5:54 to play, the Duke offense put together a much-needed touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. Sirk completed a crucial 13-yard pass to Max McCaffrey on fourth-and-eight, setting up a Sirk to Johnell Barnes touchdown pass that brought the Blue Devils (6-2, 3-1 in the ACC) within five points with 2:40 to play.
Martin attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but Miami’s Chris Herndon recovered for the Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2) near midfield. But the Blue Devils would get one last chance. After sending the Hurricanes offense backwards following Herndon’s recovery, Duke got the ball back on its own 20-yard line with 1:50 to play and no timeouts.
From there, Sirk and his receivers went to work. The Glen Saint Mary, Fla., native completed passes of 11,13 and 15 yards to Terrence Alls, McCaffrey and Braxton Deaver that set Duke up in Miami territory. Penalties hampered the Hurricanes all night—the squad committed 23 for 194 yards on the evening—and especially hurt Miami on the Blue Devils’ final drives. Hurricane defensive backs committed back-to-back pass inference infractions that pushed the offense down to the Miami 11-yard line.
Inside the red zone, Sirk found Alls on a slant route to the two-yard line, and two plays later the quarterback plunged into the end zone to give Duke its first lead of the night.
It lasted for six seconds.
“It’s unfortunate,” Sirk said. “I’m proud of our team for fighting through four quarters. Crazy stuff happens in college football, but we can’t hang our heads. Our team fought hard. Our offense at the end showed resiliency—I’m proud of them.”
The redshirt junior filled the stat sheet for the Blue Devils, accounting for 309 total yards and two touchdowns, but the performance was not enough to walk out with a win Saturday night. The game was his fourth straight without an interception.
Miami backup quarterback Malik Rosier got the Hurricanes out to a hot start in place of starter Brad Kaaya, who did not make the trip to Durham after sustaining a concussion last weekend against Clemson.
Rosier spearheaded first-half drives that gave Miami a 14-0 lead and then threw a key 19-yard touchdown pass to Stacey Coley that gave the Hurricanes a 21-12 fourth-quarter lead.
Coley, who was knocked out of Miami’s last game in Durham with a concussion in 2013, was a reliable target for Rosier, hauling in five passes for 87 yards and the score.
“Their athleticism led to the ability for them to have that [final play] occur like that,” Cutcliffe said. “Their athleticism is outstanding.”
Rosier finished the night 20-of-29 for 272 yards and two touchdowns, with his lone mistakes coming in the third quarter. The redshirt freshman committed intentional grounding in his own end zone—resulting in a safety—and threw an interception to Duke freshman defensive back Jeremy McDuffie.
Although the loss was painful for a Duke squad that was riding a four-game winning streak, the Blue Devils are still in the hunt to get back to to the ACC championship in Charlotte for the second time in three years. Duke will face North Carolina—unbeaten in ACC play—next weekend in a Tobacco Road showdown at noon in Chapel Hill in a game with high stakes in the race for the ACC Coastal Division title.