Entering Saturday’s matchup against Virginia Tech as 17-point underdogs in danger of dropping their fifth consecutive contest, the Blue Devils were still in the game, down just a touchdown with 1:15 left in the first half.

Duke had come away from Lane Stadium victorious in each of its last two visits, and after halting the Hokies offense on third-and-4 and forcing a Virginia Tech punt, the Blue Devils were set up to go into the half with momentum down just a touchdown on the road. 

After pinning the Blue Devils on their own 2-yard line, however, the Hokies utilized their timeouts to try and take advantage of a Duke ground attack that had averaged less than a yard per carry up to that point. 

Virginia Tech was able to force a Blue Devil punt with 36 seconds remaining in the half thanks to a personal foul penalty on Shaun Wilson that stopped the clock, rather than let Duke run it down to less than 10 seconds. 

“It’s a retaliation penalty," Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. “We see it all the time, and we can’t be that way. He’s a really good football player, he’s a great young man, but you can’t afford to make those mistakes. You can’t respond.”

Once the Hokies got the ball at Duke's 42-yard line, the nightmares from the past came back to haunt the Blue Devils on Halloween weekend. 

In their previous eight contests, they had allowed three opponents to punch the ball into the end zone with less than a minute remaining in the half. All three of those drives began with less than 3:15 remaining in the half, and two of them tied the game entering the locker room.

On Sept. 9, Duke allowed Northwestern to mount a five-play, 54-yard drive with 1:35 left in the second quarter. 

Two weeks later against North Carolina, the Blue Devils allowed a 13-second, 80-yard drive that was capped by a 45-yard touchdown pass with less than nine ticks remaining in the half. That play tied the game at 10, and if it weren’t for three consecutive stops by the Blue Devils and a clutch pick-six by cornerback Bryon Fields in the second half, the sequence could have cost Duke the game.

The Blue Devils' defensive lapse against Virginia Oct. 7 did factor into their second loss. Leading 14-7 with 3:14 left in the half, Duke once again failed to get the job done, allowing the Cavaliers to tie the game on a 11-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds left in the half, the first seven of 21 unanswered points for Virginia.

“They’ve all been a little bit different,” Cutcliffe said. “A lot of that has happened because we have not done what we needed to do offensively prior to closing out a half that puts our defense in those circumstances.” 

Getting back to this weekend, the story wound up being much of the same. 

Starting with the ball on the Duke 42-yard line with 30 seconds remaining, Josh Jackson completed a 16-yard pass to Eric Kumah to advance to the 26-yard line. Two plays later, Jackson lobbed the ball up for Sean Savoy, who reeled in the catch and ran into the end zone to put the Hokies up 17-3 heading into the locker room.

“They have a pretty nice throw-and-catch across the middle, and then it’s kind of a jump ball,” Cutcliffe said. “It was a big guy and our guy not as big. Their guy did a better job of going up and getting the ball." 

"When you’re covering them and you’re rushing the passer well, our kids were exploding and they just made a play. But again, they’re on the plus end of the field, and they’re given an opportunity. That’s all a team responsibility.”

In order for the Blue Devils to snap their five-game losing streak and potentially reach a bowl game for the first time since 2015, they will need to tighten up their defense and close out halves well. Although Duke has shown its ability to shut down opponents for the majority of its battles, explosive plays like Savoy's catch late in halves with its offense reeling can be devastating and costly.