CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Both Duke and Virginia players agreed after Dukes 35-22 victory, which ended with 35 unanswered Duke points, that the Blue Devils didnt make any major halftime adjustments. There were tweaks, yes, but its not as if a new game plan was implemented after the Cavaliers raced to a 22-0 lead.
Instead, Duke kept plugging away, and head coach David Cutcliffe kept encouraging his guys, who, to a man, felt like they had been hit in the mouth by the fast start.
Some guys, you could see their heads were going down a little bit, saying do we have any answers for these guys? defensive end Kenny Anunike said. Then you have guys, senior leaders like me, Ross Cockrell, Justin Foxx, just walking around saying, you know who we are, you know what we do, weve practiced this, we are Duke. And we finish games.
The Blue Devils (5-2, 1-2 in the ACC), who need just one win to reach back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history, finished with an exclamation point, 35 unanswered points on the road. Their surge, coupled with the meltdown by the UVA offense, made for one of the more notable wins of the Cutcliffe era.
After the Cavaliers (2-5, 0-3) added a two-point conversion to their third touchdown to go ahead 22-0 with 5:49 left before halftime, the offense proceeded to go three-and-out on the next five straight series, netting minus-14 yards in the process. Virginia didnt get its next first down until there were 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and that one came thanks to a Duke penalty.
Meanwhile, Dukes offense, led by quarterback Anthony Boone, started to finally find some rhythm. Boone, playing in his second game since returning from a broken collarbone, initially struggled to the point that Cutcliffe thought he might be hurt. He started 3-of-12 for 24 yards, with several throws bouncing at the feet of receivers.
I was worried, a little bit like a golf game, a guy plays great the first time back and then all of the sudden its hard, Cutcliffe said. Nick Potter, our physical therapist, was working with him between series. I dont know if he was a little muscularly tight, but he kept assuring me, and I told him, youve got to be truthful to me Anthony. And I conversed with (offensive coordinator) Kurt (Roper) about it. If he can physically do it, if were running into a wall here, we know that Brandon gives a chance to win this game. About that time, things started to heat up for Anthony.
Boone went 4-for-6 for 49 yards on Dukes first touchdown drive, which ended with a six-yard pass to Jamison Crowder to make it 22-7 with under a minute left until halftime. That gave the Blue Devils something to feel good about going into the locker room, and Cutcliffe and the staff kept their talk positive.
In the locker room, Cutcliffe made a decision that he kept to himself: it was time to get aggressive. Anything inside of fourth-and-2 in Dukes own territory, he was going for it. On the Virginia side of the field, anything inside of fourth-and-9 would be attempted by the offense.
And the strategy worked. Duke converted fourth-and-1 from its own 34-yard line (a Brandon Connette rush for four yards) on the first drive and then fourth-and-1 from its 39-yard line (Connette one yard rush) and fourth-and-8 from the Virginia 34-yard line (Boone to Max McCaffrey for 18 yards) on the second drive, which resulted in a 25-yard Ross Martin field goal to make it 22-10.
Hes got confidence in us, tight end Braxton Deaver said. He knows that well be able to get the job done. Coach Cut is like that, hes got that put your foot on the throat mentality, kill them, lets finish this thing.
It was Deaver who came up with the go-ahead score, a fourth-and-1 bootleg route that beat a blitz and went for 47 yards and a go-ahead touchdown. After a two-point conversion of their own, Duke was up 25-22 with 11:44 left in the game. Virginias first first down of the second half came on the ensuing drive, but by then, it was too late.
The meltdown continued. The Cavaliers had a chance to tie the game with a 39-yard field goal, and while the kick was good, a false start on offensive lineman Jay Whitmire wiped it out. Kicker Alec Vozenilek then missed from 44 yards with 7:37 remaining in the game. That sent a noticeable amount of Cavaliers fans to the exits, and that march intensified with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Boone to Deaver to put Duke up 32-22.
It was quite the turnaround for a group that looked down and out for the count earlier, in a 22-0 hole.
Our guys believe that we belong, Cutcliffe said. Quite frankly, we were an irrelevant football program in this league. Theyve earned relevance. I dont know what else weve earned, but weve earned relevance, and lets see what we can build it into from here.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley