Miami holds off Duke for 52-45 win

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 25, 2012 

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Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon is tackled after a first-down catch by Miami defensive back Tracy Howard at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday Nov. 24, 2012.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

— Duke coach David Cutcliffe wasn’t in a consoling mood Saturday, either at halftime or after the game.

The Blue Devils ended the regular season with a 52-45 loss to Miami, meaning they will take a 6-6 record and a four-game losing streak into their first bowl game since 1994.

Yes, the Blue Devils still have football to play. That’s a good thing and big for the program. But Cutcliffe also wants the Blue Devils playing their best football.

“There’s a fierceness to winning,” Cutcliffe said.

Cutcliffe didn’t see that Saturday in the first half. The Blue Devils trailed the Hurricanes 28-10 and were poor in every phase of play, and the coach let his team know it.

“I wasn’t nice,” Cutcliffe said. “There’s an old saying that you comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

However he said it, the Blue Devils responded. Trailing 45-24 late in the third quarter, Duke twice trimmed the Hurricanes’ lead to seven.

“We came out the second half and fought,” Duke receiver Jamison Crowder said.

Senior quarterback Sean Renfree, who was 36-of-59 passing for 432 yards and a career-high four scores, connected with Crowder on a 99-yard touchdown – the longest play from scrimmage in Duke history – and then Conner Vernon on a 6-yard TD. With a little less than eight minutes left, it was 45-38.

“I thought we were in the game the whole way,” Renfree said.

So did Miami coach Al Golden.

“They came storming back,” Golden said. “I felt like, ‘Oh, man, now we’ve got to respond. Do we have enough in us in the tank?’ ”

Miami did. On the first play after the kickoff, quarterback Stephen Morris teamed with wideout Herb Waters for a 65-yard catch-and-run TD and a 52-38 lead.

Breathing room? Not for long. Duke’s Brandon Connette scored on a 1-yard run with 2:32 remaining.

“You look up at the clock and there’s still time,” Cutcliffe said. “If we get the onside kick, who knows?”

Duke’s kick took the perfect bounce over the heads of Miami’s players, but the ball went out of bounds and the Hurricanes were able to run out the clock.

For Miami, the season ended Saturday. The Hurricanes are 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the Coastal Division, but they took themselves out of a shot at an ACC title and a bowl with a self-imposed penalty because of a pending NCAA investigation.

As Golden said, “We’ve given up a lot.”

Running back Duke Johnson, powerful and elusive, had 176 yards on 16 carries and broke off a 65-yard run for one of his three scores. He also broke Clinton Portis’ school rushing record by a freshman set in 1999.

As Cutcliffe said, the Blue Devils were “flashy” offensively. Crowder had eight catches for 203 yards and two scores, and Vernon – one of 20 seniors playing his final home game at Wade Stadium – made 11 grabs for 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Vernon, the ACC’s career leader in receptions and receiving yards, has caught a pass in 47 straight games. That’s every game in his college career.

But Miami rushed for 248 yards and passed for 398, averaging 24.9 yards a reception. Morris threw for three scores, including a 72-yarder to running back Mike James, who skirted the sideline.

“Defensively there were flashes, but only flashes,” Cutcliffe said.

Duke’s last win was the 33-30 thriller against North Carolina on Oct. 20. The Blue Devils closed 3-5 in the ACC. Their bowl destination is still to be determined – it could be the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, or the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.

“It’s one of those bittersweet moments,” Vernon said. “Yeah, we are going to a bowl, but we are on a four-game losing streak. That’s something we have to change.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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