DURHAM — Duke coach David Cutcliffe has told his told players these are the games, the close ones, that are most telling. He tells his Blue Devils he loves close games, because youre right there, one play away from victory.
Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium, the Blue Devils needed a play against No. 15 Virginia Tech, one that could be the biggest highlight under Cutcliffes four-years.
Duke had plenty of opportunities to choose from against Virginia Tech.
With less than five minutes left, Cutcliffe hoped it was here, on a fourth-and-two play deep in the Hokies territory and the Blue Devils needing a touchdown.
Quarterback Sean Renfree rolled right on play-action. Running back Juwan Thompson, Renfrees primary target, fell down forcing Renfree to use his legs.
Renfree lost three yards, ending the drive, and Dukes upset bid in Virginia Techs 14-10 win in front of 27,392.
We have no moral victories and were all hurting, Cutcliffe said. This is when you get to find out about yourself. Youre right there at the doorstep.
For a season that started with hopes of getting to a bowl game for the first time in 17 years, the Blue Devils are learning about themselves through disappointment. Close losses to Richmond in the season-opener and to Wake Forest last week couldnt help Duke (3-5, 1-3 ACC) against Virginia Tech (8-1, 4-1).
Its tough to lose like we did a week ago and turn around and play as well as we did and lose again, Cutcliffe said.
What will haunt the Blue Devils are the miss opportunities that cost them their first win against a ranked opponent since 1994.
No matter how well the Blue Devils played on defense holding the Hokies scoreless in the second half they struggled on offense.
Before the fourth-down play, Duke turned the ball over twice in the red zone.
Kicker Will Snyderwine did make a 26-yard field goal early in the third quarter, but the Blue Devils should have scored more points in the second half.
In the fourth quarter, running back Desmond Scott made a 47-yard run his longest of the season to put Duke at Virginia Techs 18-yard line. When the Blue Devils failed to score a touchdown, Cutcliffe asked Snyderwine to make a 29-yard field goal.
Synderwines kick hit the right upright. He also missed attempts from 38 and 57 yards.
Last year, Synderwine missed just three of his 24 field goal attempts.
I lost the game for my team, he said. You cant miss three field goals, and I know I can make those. I really feel like I let the team down.
Cutcliffe said he couldnt put all the blame on Synderwine. He thought the Blue Devils could have beaten the Hokies by three touchdowns.
Thats because the Blue Devils responded well after making mistakes early.
Even though Renfree didnt have his best performance, he was still able to move the Blue Devils down the field. And when cornerback Tony Foster allowed a 60-yard pass to Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas, he deflected a critical third-down pass on the same drive which resulted in the Hokies missing a 29-yard field goal.
Renfree knew the offense should have scored more than one touchdown, too, yet four turnovers hindered the Blue Devils.
Its tremendously frustrating, Renfree said. We have to find ways to score if we want to win games.
The Blue Devils did get one last chance to pull off the upset with less than two minutes left. But Renfree was intercepted by Hokies linebacker Barquell Rivers.
With another loss keeping the goal of being bowl-eligible farther away, Cutcliffe said his team cant dread being in close games, because he expects the Blue Devils to have more in the final four weeks of the season.
I felt we left a lot of points and opportunities out there on the field, he said.
The Blue Devils and Cutcliffe are still searching for that game-changing play in the fourth quarter against a marquee opponent.