For the first time in three years, the Blue Devils and Panthers managed to avoid a shootout.
But this time around, the game was on the verge of being a second-half blowout.
On Senior Day at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday, Duke dropped its third straight game since beginning the season 6-1 with a 31-13 loss against Pittsburgh. The Blue Devils are now out of contention for the ACC Coastal title, and were unable to rack up one more home victory for their seniors—including captains Jeremy Cash and Matt Skura—in their final home game.
“We are a better football team than we played on that field today,” senior tight end Braxton Deaver said. “[The] premium needs to be on our execution. We need to hit and we need to be the Duke football team that showed up in August getting ready for this season.”
Although the team did not give up another 66 points like it did last week against North Carolina, Duke (6-4, 3-3 in the ACC) once again had several missed opportunities and surrendered a number of explosive plays that put the game out of reach in the second half. The once-stout defense could not get off the field—allowing the Panthers (7-3, 5-1) to convert 8-of-15 third downs—and several key penalties in the contest kept the ball moving for Pittsburgh.
In the first drive of the second half for the Panthers, a defensive holding penalty negated a third-down sack by defensive end Deion Williams and a defensive pass interference call against cornerback Breon Borders in the end zone reversed a pick that would have ended the drive. Instead, the Panthers punched in a touchdown three plays later on a three-yard reception from tight end J.P. Holtz.
“Penalties are something that are part of the game,” senior defensive end Kyler Brown said. “We can’t always rely on the refs so we have to be out there making the plays ourselves. That’s something that we’ve definitely got to correct and something that we’ve got to clean up.”
Pittsburgh managed to exploit several open holes in the Blue Devil defense to break open a 10-10 tie at halftime. Running back Qadree Ollison broke off a 43-yard run on the first play of the second half, and All-American wide receiver Tyler Boyd showcased his speed and agility on his way to 79 yards on the ground and 38 yards receiving.
“Tyler Boyd is a great player,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “He’s got great speed and athleticism. He certainly showed himself well today.”
Ollison gashed Duke for 111 yards and one touchdown in the win, and dual-threat safety Jordan Whitehead—who also plays offense—managed to gain 38 yards rushing in addition to a team-leading nine tackles. The freshman also secured an interception midway through the fourth quarter that seemingly ended the game.
Despite the loss, backup quarterback Parker Boehme showed potential in his first start as a Blue Devil. After completing his first five passes of the game, the redshirt sophomore went on to complete 23-for-42 passes for 248 yards for the afternoon. The Jacksonville Beach, Fla., native also used his legs to move the ball for Duke, punching in one touchdown and racking up 80 yards on the ground—including the team’s longest run of the season with a 77-yard scamper in the first quarter.
Boehme’s first outing was marked by a close connection with wide receiver Anthony Nash. The duo teamed up for 101 yards, including a 52-yard crossing pattern that Nash took down to the Duke one-yard line and a 36-yard snag at the right sideline that led to a Ross Martin kick for the Blue Devils.
“[Boehme is] a tough-minded, tough-physical kid. I thought he gave us everything he could give us today. You couldn’t ask much more for a guy in his first start than what Parker Boehme did,” Cutcliffe said. “I couldn’t be happier for a more conscientious young man [in Anthony Nash]. He is a hard worker, it’s important to him and he still can take another step.”
With no chance of capturing a Coastal Division title in Durham following the loss, Duke will look to right the ship and end its three-game losing streak on the road against Virginia next week.
“We’re a 6-4 team. I’ve been apart of teams that would love to be a 6-4 team,” Cutcliffe said. “There are teams around the country right now that would like to be sitting where we are. And now, it’s a matter of what we’re going to try to do. It’s not time to run. It’s time to step up and step forward.”
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