WINSTON-SALEM — For the first time since 1999, a span of 12 games, Duke finally managed to defeat Wake Forest.
And the Blue Devils won 34-27 Saturday despite losing five starters during the contest and encountering a late momentum swing in the Deacons favor.
Just finally ending that streak is huge, said Duke senior wide receiver Conner Vernon, who also called it the biggest win of his career. Right now, its kind of like youre on cloud nine a little bit, just finally getting over that hump.
It was not easy for Duke (4-1, 1-0 in the ACC), which is now off to its best start since 1994, the season of its most recent bowl appearance. But the Blue Devils commitment to the running game, error-free special teams and a propensity for generating turnovers proved to be difference makers down the stretch.
Dukes defense, which lost two starters on the opening drive, harassed Wake Forest (3-2, 1-2) into four turnovers twice as many as the Deacons had in their previous four games combined. The third takeaway a sack and forced fumble by Jordon DeWalt-Ondijo led to Dukes go-ahead drive with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
DeWalt-Ondijo, who forced the fumble that led to Dukes game-winning drive against FIU in 2010, hit Wake Forest QB Tanner Price as he dropped back to throw. Defensive lineman Jonathan Woodruff recovered, and Duke took over on the Wake Forest 8.
Its been amazing, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of his defense. If you start counting the number of players not out there, we just keep having people step up.
Two plays after the fumble recovery, backup quarterback Anthony Boone, who had entered the game on the previous series, executed a perfect fake handoff to freshman Jela Duncan. Boone kept the ball himself, rolled out and then ran down the right sideline for the go-ahead score.
When Sean went down, everybody looked at me and said, time to go, said Boone, the former Weddington High star. Everyone has confidence in me, and that brings confidence in myself.
Duncan added an insurance touchdown on a 17-yard run with less than two minutes remaining after Duke forced the second Price interception of the day.
It hurts, Deacons cornerback Kevin Johnson said. We know that we let one go and we didnt play the best game that we can. Duke was a great team, but its definitely discouraging.
The Blue Devils 14 fourth-quarter points came after the Deacons had scored 10 points of their own in just 2:09 late in the third quarter. Trailing by 10 and missing the ACCs leading receiver, Michael Campanaro, because of a broken hand sustained in the first half, Wake Forest rattled off the third-longest drive in school history. The 98-yard drive included a third-and-9 conversion from the 3-yard line, with Price finding Deandre Martin for a 36-yard gain. A 34-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Bohanan narrowed the deficit to 20-17.
On the next offensive play for Duke, Renfree was hit by reserve cornerback Chibuikem Okoro, and Wake Forest defensive end Zach Thompson came down with the interception at the Duke 20-yard line. A 28-yard field goal from Newman tied it 20-20.
But unlike seemingly every other recent game in the series, it was Duke that made the key fourth-quarter plays.
The end result?
A victory at BB&T Field.
Duke is hoping it leads to a few more.
It just goes to show that, finally, this team is here to play, Vernon said. It goes to show the rest of the teams in the league also that were not just an easy win anymore.
Wake Forest lost an ACC home game to an in-state opponent for the first time since 2004, when UNC beat the Demon Deacons Nov. 13, 2004
For the first time this year, the Blue Devils ran the ball more than they passed. The trio of Jela Duncan, Juwan Thompson and Josh Snead spearheaded the 36 carry, 123-yard effort.