In the immediate aftermath of Duke’s 44-41 overtime win against Indiana, the Blue Devils were aware of the historical significance of their Pinstripe Bowl victory.
“We hadn’t won a bowl game since 1961. So just understand that,” David Cutcliffe said to open his press conference. “For the first time in the history of Duke football, we’ve had three straight years of eight or more wins. That’s incredible from that regard.”
Plenty of stories have been written over the past four years about Duke not winning a bowl game since the 1961 Cotton Bowl. It’s something the Blue Devils had been talking about before they were even going to bowls regularly.
“We’ve been hearing 1961 since my freshman year,” Duke senior center Matt Skura said. “It’s been a goal for a long time. It’s just not (this) senior class that’s been a part of this, it’s the senior classes before me.”
Granted, entering the Pinstripe bowl Duke only had five bowl appearances since that 7-6 win over Arkansas, but this group of 23 seniors had lost three particularly painful bowl games in their careers. In the 2012 Belk Bowl, the 2013 Peach Bowl and the 2014 Sun Bowl, Duke had fourth-quarter leads, only to see them slip away. Against Indiana, Duke never led in the fourth, but the Blue Devils came back to tie the game twice and force overtime.
“It sucks to have that feeling of defeat, and you don’t have the opportunity to come back next year,” senior running back Shaquille Powell said. “We’ve had people on those teams, so everyone knew what was at stake. We were all playing for each other, because no one wants to feel that pain again.”
When Indiana kicker Griffin Oakes’s final 38-yard field goal attempt didn’t quite completely sneak inside the right upright, the Blue Devils finally had their long-awaited bowl win. Skura ran to classmate Lucas Patrick and embraced the left tackle in a bear hug.
“You’re pretty numb while everyone is cheering and everything,” Skura said. “I just ran right over to Lucas Patrick because I know how much him and I have put into this.
“This is huge. Not only for these seniors, but for the program moving forward. Bowl wins are huge.”
Cutcliffe became emotional addressing the seniors in the locker room, as this was the final time the group that won 33 games in their careers – tying the program record – will wear Duke uniforms. It has been an incredible run.
“The first thing I did in that locker room was sincerely, and I don’t want to get emotional again, thank our seniors for all they’ve meant to all of us, their contributions,” Cutcliffe said. “I thanked them most for raising the bar. The expectations of Duke football continue to grow. That’s a big deal.”
Seniors Skura, Patrick, Powell, wide receiver Max McCaffrey, tight ends Braxton Deaver and David Reeves, defensive ends Kyler Brown and Deion Williams, defensive tackle Carlos Wray, linebacker Dwayne Norman, safety Jeremy Cash, punter Will Monday and kicker Ross Martin were all significant contributors for the Blue Devils, and they will be missed.
They helped end the 17-year bowl drought as freshmen, won the Coastal Division as sophomores and ended their careers with the elusive bowl win as seniors. Cutcliffe always tells his players to leave a place better than they found it.
This group of Blue Devils undoubtedly did that.