DURHAM — Wake Forests football team found another way to sneak by Duke.
The Demon Deacons (5-2, 4-1 ACC) secured a 12th consecutive victory over the Blue Devils, rallying for a 24-23 win before an announced crowd of 22,258 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The Blue Devils (3-4, 1-2) last beat the Deacs in 1999, and since then it's been a tortuous stretch of head-shaking defeats. This one was no different.
"It's a very tough pill to swallow," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
Duke, which trailed 17-3 at halftime, found its offensive and defensive stride in the second half and labored to come back. Guarding a six-point lead in the fourth quarter, Duke allowed Wake's top playmaker, wide receiver Chris Givens, to find room, and he made them pay. It took one 13-second play to shift the tide. On first and 10 from its 34 yard line, Wake sophomore quarterback Tanner Price tossed a screen pass to Givens, who bolted 66 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The redshirt junior raced up the right sideline avoiding three defenders - applying a spectacular stutter-step near the 10 to create space and find the end zone.
"I knew a play needed to be made," said Givens, whose team was forced to three-and-outs on five of its six second-half possessions.
Wake improved to 5-2 for the first time since 2007 and the third time in 51 years. Coach Jim Grobe collected his 100th career victory, improving his record to 100-95-1.
The Deacs are now one game from bowl eligibility.
Wake stalled in the second half, allowing Duke to outscore them 10-0 and outgain them 119-1 in the third quarter. Still, the Deacs kept the game close in the fourth with pad-popping defense.
"I thought our kids played their hearts out," Grobe said. "I thought our kids hung in their and made a play when they had to. It's not real good for my blood pressure ... but it was good to get a win."
In many ways this was a typical day for these football teams. In four of their past five games, six or fewer points decided the contest. With six minutes to go, Wake held only a one-point lead.
Over the final six minutes, Duke's offense - despite collecting 372 total offensive yards and scoring 23 points - couldn't help its defense, which twice forced the Deacs to punt during the span.
Gaining possession at its 24 yard line with 3:45 left, the Blue Devils appeared as if they might change the course of this recently lopsided rivalry. Yet they were denied at Wake's 40-yard line, leaving junior redshirt quarterback Sean Renfree trying to find redshirt sophomore Tyree Watkins, senior tight end Cooper Helfet and senior receiver Donovan Varner on three consecutive passing plays.
Duke turned the ball over on downs and didn't get it back until 13 seconds remained. Time enough for Renfree to throw a pass that was intercepted by Wake junior cornerback Kenny Okoro.
"For some reason we figure out we can win the game in the second half," Duke sophomore linebacker Kelby Brown said. "This one hurts for sure."
Cutcliffe praised his team's second half efforts, though said afterward he had done a "more than poor job" of coaching in the first half. He said Duke lacked discipline and made "wishy-washy" decisions.
Cutcliffe issued a challenge to the team at halftime and they responded. "You can't win a conference game playing two quarters," Cutcliffe said.
Still, what most will remember about Saturday's flip-a-coin outcome was a tremendous play by Givens.
The 6-foot, 190-pound receiver, who leads the ACC in receptions and reception yards, dodged tackles near the sideline by Duke redshirt sophomore cornerback Ross Cockrell, junior Zach Green and senior Matt Daniels. He's burned others this season but looked electric in collecting his 20th career touchdown.
"I didn't think he had the speed to out run all of us down the sideline," Cutcliffe said.
"You have to give Chris Givens a lot of credit," Grobe said. "That wasn't a fluky deal. That's something he's cable of doing."