DURHAM — When Duke led Miami by one point at halftime earlier this season, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe made sure to remind his team not to wish the second half away.
Whats the tendency that every one of us has? Cutcliffe said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. Youre looking at the clock come on, clock! Come on, clock!
I think thats a mistake. I think you have to learn to embrace all of these things that come your way. Those opportunities are important in the big picture.
Duke ended up dominating Miami in the fourth quarter of that Nov. 16 game, allowing the Blue Devils to roll to a 48-30 victory.
Two weeks later, Duke (9-2, 5-2 ACC) has a similar chance to push for even greater rewards when it faces North Carolina (6-5, 4-3) on Saturday at noon at Kenan Stadium.
The Blue Devils have already won the most games of any Duke team since the 1941 squad. Theyre also in the midst of the programs first seven-game winning streak since 1994, and theyve clinched a berth into what could be a marquee bowl game around New Years.
But if Duke embraces Saturdays opportunity, it will have the chance to do something even bigger: a win would clinch a spot in the ACC championship game, where Duke would face Florida State with a berth to a BCS bowl on the line.
Im really excited for these players that they get an opportunity to play in a game thats this challenging, Cutcliffe said.
In the past year, Dukes players have participated in more than big games than the generation of Blue Devils before them.
There was the victory over North Carolina last season that won back the Victory Bell and clinched bowl eligibility. There was the Belk Bowl loss to Cincinnati that Cutcliffe said Tuesday provided as solemn a locker room atmosphere as hes experienced at Duke.
This year, the games have gotten more important with each passing week. The win at Virginia Tech was memorable because it was the first time the Blue Devils beat a ranked opponent on the road since 1971, while the victory against Miami was noteworthy for the possibilities it afforded in terms of postseason positioning.
The fact the Blue Devils have cleared just about every hurdle theyve encountered means the players are reluctant to ascribe make-or-break status to Saturdays game.
Saturdays just one game in a long season, senior captain Ross Cockrell said. Thats kind of how were looking at it. Its obviously a very important game for the program, but whether we win or lose is not going to dampen my view on what weve done and what weve accomplished this season as a team.
Instead, senior co-captain Dave Harding said the emphasis this week will be on savoring the moment.
After all, it is not every year the Blue Devils are competing in games with stakes as high as Saturdays.
This is my last regular-season game, Harding said. For all the seniors on the team that have been through so much, you have to savor it. You have to take a look back and say, Wow, look at how far weve come. Thats why you play the game to improve and get better at your craft week after week.
Its been a great experience.