CHAPEL HILL—Duke head coach David Cutcliffe stood for the entirety of his four-minute press conference.
After a gut-wrenching loss to North Carolina with twists and turns and everything in between during the final minutes, emotions were high following the game and there was a palpable tension in the press room. At the top of everyone’s mind were the supposed skirmish between Cutcliffe and a North Carolina player and the failed trick play that resulted in an interception and sealed the game at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Following the game, Tar Heel offensive lineman Jordan Tucker was seen on Duke’s side of the field, tauntingly waving towards the Duke players and fans who were streaming out off the field. A few seconds later, Cutcliffe was seen coming over, shouting at the offensive lineman, pointing back to the Tar Heel sideline and putting his hands on the 6-foot-7 Tucker. The interaction was the low point of a frustration-filled Saturday evening for Cutcliffe.
“I was trying to get people to get back where they belong. [We] had too many staff over there that aren’t our staff,” Cutcliffe said “But I can’t tell you what happened because I didn’t see everything that happened or what caused it. I don’t care for those circumstances.”
Although the video is certainly not damning by any means, it does encapsulate the emotions on both sides. The euphoria on the side of the hosts, who went from trying to seal the game at the Duke 3-yard line to seeing their rivals 72 inches away from victory to an unexpected interception by Chazz Surratt, a former Duke quarterback commit turned linebacker. Meanwhile, disappointment and shock prevailed on the Blue Devil side.
“It definitely stings in a game like this where you are playing for a victory bell, for the Coastal division," Duke quarterback Quentin Harris said. "To have a game where you really had a shot to at least tie it or to take the lead, it definitely hurts. I didn't see exactly what happened, I just saw some extracurriculars. That kind of stuff might happen in a rivalry game, heightened emotions.”
Cutcliffe was snippy throughout the conference, still reeling from the aftermath of the loss. Duke had three fumbles—one of which was recovered on a Harris strip sack—and two interceptions. When asked about the Blue Devils' turnovers and ball security issues, Cutcliffe did not have much to say.
“You don’t get hit in the back by a missed block on a sack," Cutcliffe said. "We overthrew an opportunity, but it felt like we waited too long. The route didn’t materialize like I would like it to on the first interception he had. And then the other interception, the jump pass. We work ball security every friggin’ day. Every day. So, we’re not going to work it any different, if that’s your question.”
Ultimately, the press conference did not last long. Cutcliffe left the room after just more than three minutes.
Where the Blue Devils go from this night will go a long way in determining whether or not they are bowl-eligible come December. For better or for worse, Duke has a bye week coming up and will get some much-needed time to recover both physically and emotionally.
The Blue Devils will have a tough four-game stretch to close the season, with two consecutive home games against No. 9 Notre Dame and Syracuse, a trip across state against a solid Wake Forest team and then a home finale against an inconsistent, yet always dangerous Miami. If Duke can channel its emotions to playing solid football through November, this loss could serve as a blessing in disguise.
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“We have a bye week coming up, hopefully get everyone back healthy. We have a four-game stretch to finish the season,” Harris said. “Coach Cut always talks about playing your best football in November, and that is exactly what we will look to do.”