Florida may be called The Sunshine State, but things weren’t so sunny for Duke Saturday afternoon in Tallahassee.
The Blue Devils fell 56-35 to Florida State in Doak Campbell Stadium, with four Duke turnovers and 282 yards of total offense by Seminole quarterback Jordan Travis doing most of the damage. With the win, Florida State pushed its record in the all-time series to 21-0.
"A pretty somber locker room, as you might imagine," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. "Eleven games now, a season coming to completion. Very thankful to our seniors, not just for their leadership this year but what they've done throughout their time here."
The Seminoles stormed out of the gates in the second half to seal the deal, as an injury to Duke quarterback Chase Brice on the third play after intermission rendered the Blue Devil offense ineffective. Florida State turned a 28-21 lead at the start of the third quarter into a 42-21 advantage in less than eight minutes, ending any chance of a Duke victory in its season finale.
Another slow opening period plagued the Blue Devils (2-9, 1-9 in the ACC). The Seminoles (3-6, 2-6) appeared to have no issues offensively in the early going, as a seven-play, 75-yard opening drive seemed fairly simple for Travis and company. Duke, on the other hand, committed two penalties on its first offensive possession and punted the ball back to Florida State after just 94 seconds.
Travis, in arguably his best performance since taking over the starter mantle Oct. 3, completed 13-of-18 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while adding 90 yards and a score on the ground.
Florida State picked up where it left off on its ensuing offensive drive, as Travis found speedy receiver Ontaria Wilson for a 39-yard gain to the Blue Devil two-yard-line put the Seminoles in business once again. On the next play, running back Jashaun Corbin muscled his way into the end zone, giving Florida State a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
What came next was just par for the course. Brice, on just his third attempt of the day, was picked off by Florida State defensive back Hamsah Nasirildeen, who returned the interception to the Duke 14-yard-line. The Seminoles immediately took advantage, as Corbin reached pay dirt for the second time to put the home team up 21-0.
Following a Treshaun Ward 26-yard touchdown run four minutes later, Duke found itself down 28-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter, and all hope seemed lost. However, head coach David Cutcliffe had other ideas, as a team-wide meeting late in the opening stanza helped turn the tide.
"I reminded them of the quality of work, not just this week but every week," Cutcliffe said. "I mean, what are we doing? Focus, one play at a time, getting back in this ballgame. We're too good to look like we looked right there."
After that huddle, the Blue Devils battled back in a big way for the remainder of the first half, with the first spark coming in the form of a 26-yard connection between Brice and Eli Pancol to put the Blue Devils on the scoreboard with a minute to go in the opening quarter.
Duke continued to chip away at its deficit for the rest of the half, in large part thanks to two turnovers forced by safety Nate Thompson and some timely play-calling. Mataeo Durant broke free for a 64-yard scamper to glory and Deon Jackson capped off another impressive drive with a touchdown run of his own from just a yard out, and the Blue Devils suddenly found themselves down just 28-21 with five minutes to go before the break.
"I just feel like that shows the heart of our team and how resilient we can be when things are against us," Durant said. "I was just so happy and proud of our team, being able to fight back from a 28-point deficit and being able to make it a game going into the second half."
Duke’s pair of talented rushers finished with 161 yards—127 for Durant and 34 for Jackson—in likely their final game as a tandem before Jackson graduates.
The Blue Devils nearly put even more points on the board before halftime, making their way into the red zone just before the second quarter ended. But three straight holding penalties created a first-and-40 on the Florida State 48-yard-line, and Duke ended up kneeling to run out the clock.
Once the third quarter began, all the momentum that the Blue Devils gained throughout that second quarter dissipated fairly quickly. Brice was drilled short of the sticks on a third-down scramble, fumbling the ball in the process and not seeing the field the rest of the contest.
With that, Cutcliffe had to turn to someone he did not anticipate having to put under center this season, sending in true freshman Luca Diamont.
The California native was inconsistent in his college debut, completing 5-of-8 attempts for 38 yards and an interception, adding 60 yards on the ground as well.
Brice racked up 81 yards on 7-of-17 passing before leaving the game, totaling one touchdown and two interceptions.
The loss to the Seminoles puts a cap on a gut-wrenching campaign for the Blue Devils. With questions surrounding the direction of the program, and multiple standouts departing, the future is uncertain for Cutcliffe and Duke.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.