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ChronSports' Top 10 of 2018 — No. 7: Duke football picks up bowl eligibility in the Miami rain

<p>Duke football fought hard to break out of a slump and earn bowl eligibility on the road.</p>

Duke football fought hard to break out of a slump and earn bowl eligibility on the road.

With the end of 2018 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics.

Coming in at No. 7 on our list: Duke football defeats the Hurricanes in Miami for the first time since 1976, clinching its sixth bowl appearance in seven years.

Duke football truly had no reason to be confident heading into Hard Rock Stadium for its meeting with the Hurricanes. 

It had just lost two consecutive games to unranked opponents and hadn’t beaten Miami in the Sunshine State since 1976. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils overcame all odds—and rain—to come out victorious that fateful November night, defeating the Hurricanes 20-12 and clinching their sixth bowl appearance under head coach David Cutcliffe in the process.

Duke didn’t have its best performance of the season. Star quarterback Daniel Jones completed only 17-of-35 passes for 130 yards and the team converted on just three of its 16 third-down chances. But behind a second consecutive 100-yard rushing performance from sophomore running back Deon Jackson and a defense that just wouldn’t quit, the Blue Devils were able to secure their signature win of an up-and-down season.

“I just got to compliment our squad and our assistant coaches for consistent and courageous effort in a very tough circumstance,” Cutcliffe said after the win. “Miami’s got an outstanding football team, we all know that, and they fought hard and we fought hard. That was kind of an old fashioned mud game and we were fortunate to pull it out and get the win.”

The contest had good omens from the start, with Deon Jackson taking Duke’s first play from scrimmage 75 yards for a touchdown. But soon, the rain began pouring down, turning the surface into a more of a slip ‘n slide than football field. Those conditions prevented either squad from mustering much offense through the air, with the two teams combining to complete only 32-of-65 passes for 255 yards.

Miami, however, proved it didn’t need an aerial attack to find its offensive groove. The Hurricanes finished the game with 300 rushing yards, including two second-quarter touchdowns via an 83-yard sprint from sophomore DeeJay Dallas and a six-yard run from junior Travis Homer. But after fumbling the PAT after its first score and failing to convert the two-point conversion following the second, Miami’s lead was limited to 12-7 entering halftime.

Points were hard to come by out of the locker rooms, with a Duke field goal representing the only score for the first 14 minutes of the second half. The turning point of the game, though, came with three minutes remaining in the third quarter: a 42-yard field goal attempt giving the Hurricanes an opportunity to stretch their advantage back up to five.

But All-American linebacker Joe Giles-Harris—who recorded a game-high 12 tackles in the contest—blocked the kick, keeping the Blue Devils’ deficit at two. On the ensuing offensive possession, a quick jump-pass touchdown from backup quarterback Quentin Harris to redshirt senior Daniel Helm gave Duke a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“The biggest thing we look towards is they didn't score,” linebacker Ben Humphreys said. “They missed a field goal, they missed an extra point, we held them on the two-point conversion, Joe blocked a field goal. We held them to not scoring and if you keep them out of the end zone then you're going to win football games.”

There were certainly some low points throughout the year, from losing back-to-back games against Virginia and Pittsburgh to a horrid drubbing at the hands of Wake Forest in the season finale. But the Miami win represents a bright spot, the Blue Devils’ first victory overall against the Hurricanes since 2013. 

Furthermore, that sixth bowl bid in seven years symbolizes a transforming football program—Duke went 51 years from 1961 until 2011 with only two postseason appearances. Now, the Blue Devils look forward to finishing off their season with a win for the third time in four years as they prepare for Temple in the Independence Bowl Dec. 27 at 1:30 p.m.

READ MORE on Duke's bowl-eligibility clinching victory against Miami

REIGN IN THE RAIN: Duke football clinches bowl eligibility with victory against Miami

Duke football defense finds knack for big plays in victory against Miami

Duke football to face Temple in Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown to date:

No. 10: Duke volleyball earns first postseason bid since 2014

No. 9: Duke women's tennis rides dominant play for a trip to the national semifinals

No. 8: Duke men's golf surprises with a Final Four spot

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