After Sunday afternoon's news that Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe's time with the program has come to an end, let's take the time to appreciate some of the longtime coach's finest accomplishments with the Blue Devils. With that, the Blue Zone presents our list of Cutcliffe's top five moments in his 14 years at Duke:
2012: Duke 33, North Carolina 30
After going 3-9 in 2011, the Blue Devils were off to a roaring 5-2 start when the rival Tar Heels rolled into Durham with the long-possessed Victory Bell in tow. Led by quarterback Sean Renfree and wide receivers Jamison Crowder and Conner Vernon, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 20-6 lead by halftime and then maintained a 23-9 lead heading into the final quarter. But consecutive touchdown-scoring drives by North Carolina had the score at 26-23 and the ball back in Duke’s hands with just over six minutes to go.
A quick three-and-out gave the Tar Heels the ball back with a golden opportunity to capitalize on a stunning comeback in front of nearly 34,000 fans under the lights at Wallace Wade Stadium. With 3:27 on the clock, North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner found his man over the middle near midfield, but an ensuing fumble dribbled all the way toward the goal line, leaving Giovani Bernard free to scoop it up to give the Tar Heels the lead. The Blue Devils then drove down the field and Renfree found Crowder in the end zone—on fourth down and with only 13 seconds left—to win the game for Duke, giving the Blue Devils the Victory Bell for the first time since 2003 and sending one of Cutcliffe’s Duke squads to a bowl game for the first time.
2013: Duke 13, Virginia Tech 10
Looking to build off of a 6-6 season which ended in a loss in the Belk Bowl, Cutcliffe had his team at 5-2 again, but this time Duke was traveling to Blacksburg, Va., for a date with No. 16 Virginia Tech. This battle—between two powerful offenses—ended up being a fight of the defenses, as the Blue Devils only gained 198 yards when all was said and done. But those 198 yards were all the Blue Devils would need, as a 13-0 lead, despite several turnovers from quarterback Anthony Boone, would be too much for the Hokies to overcome.
Down a field goal in the fourth quarter with the ball near midfield, Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas threw a ball over the middle that was deflected and then caught by Duke’s Kelby Brown. Minutes later, a high-risk, high-reward fourth-down conversion attempt by Brandon Connette barely succeeded as he spun toward the line to gain. The win was a major upset win for the Blue Devils, and the first ranked win on the road for the program in 42 years.
2013: ACC Coastal Division Champions
Following the Virginia Tech win, Duke would go on to win big against N.C. State and Miami, and then ended its 6-2 conference season with a win against North Carolina to keep hold of the Victory Bell. Its remarkable eight-game win streak to close the season had the Blue Devils with a 10-2 record, ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll and locked in for a spot in the ACC Championship Game.
The matchup against eventual national champion Florida State was not pretty, as the Blue Devils fell 45-7, but the performance over the season as a whole earned Duke, the conference runner-up, a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. That game could be broken down much further, but a 38-17 halftime lead for Duke fell apart as Manziel’s second-half magic pushed the Aggies to a 52-48 win. Duke’s eventual inclusion in the final AP Poll was the program’s first since 1961.
2015: Pinstripe Bowl
With each successive season since 2012, it looked as if Duke was building to something bigger and better. The departure of the remnants of that division champion team—namely Jamison Crowder and Anthony Boone—proved to be no problem for Cutcliffe, who brought in Thomas Sirk to play quarterback. Sirk led the team in rushing for the season and put up tremendous numbers through the air—2,625 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Another six-plus-win season meant the Blue Devils were bowling again, this time against Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York.
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Losses in bowl games in each of the previous three years were forming a frustrating pattern for fans, players and coaches alike, as the Blue Devils had yet to bring home that elusive piece of hardware. The game was a thriller, as the teams combined for over 1,200 total yards of offense and Duke tallied 373 yards over the ground—including 155 from Sirk. The largest lead for either team was 10, and big plays littered the stat sheet and the scoreboard. Tied at 41, the game went to overtime and Duke nailed a field goal on its first try. The Hoosiers’ kicker missed on a 38-yard field goal just over the right upright to give Cutcliffe his first bowl win at Duke and the Blue Devils won their first bowl since the 1961 Cotton Bowl.
2016: Duke 38, Notre Dame 35
Early on in the season, it looked like the Blue Devils may be out of business as a potential bowl team with new freshman quarterback Daniel Jones under center. With a matchup against perennial contender Notre Dame ahead, the 1-2 Blue Devils were not expected to do much in front of the big crowd in South Bend, Ind. Despite falling behind 14-0 early to Deshone Kizer’s Fighting Irish, Jones’ big game and connection with Anthony Nash, backed by a solid rushing attack from Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson, had Duke trading blows with Notre Dame until the waning minutes of regulation.
With just over a minute left, Cutcliffe opted for kicker AJ Reed, who had yet to convert a college field goal in three attempts, for a chip shot field goal over a one-yard touchdown try. The safer choice was thankfully the correct one for Cutcliffe, as Duke would hold on to win by three in one of the program’s all-time upset wins against a powerhouse program.
Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.