Hoisted above the crowd by two of his players, David Cutcliffe could see the celebration in the visitors’ corner at Kenan Stadium. The Duke coach could hear the Victory Bell ringing, over and over again. He could feel the Gatorade that soaked him.
How’s the view from up there, carried off the field in triumph?
“You know what I was able to see, and honestly, you’re asking?” Cutcliffe said. “It allowed me to see our parents and our players intermingling, Duke fans intermingling over in that corner. I really got a great view of that and otherwise I wouldn’t have.”
Duke defensive linemen Sydney Sarmiento and Justin Foxx only carried Cutcliffe for about 50 yards, but it was a journey six years in the making covering a distance almost everyone thought impossible.
Saturday’s 27-25 win over North Carolina gave Duke the first 10-win season in school history, clinched the ACC’s Coastal Division title and sent the Blue Devils on to next Saturday’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte against No. 2 Florida State.
Let that sink in. Duke against Florida State for the ACC title. In football.
It’s been a wild ride for Duke, and Cutcliffe got one off the field to match.
“He’s the one that sold us on this program, he believed in his vision, he’s been the architect of this program, bringing it to where it is now,” Foxx said. “We just wanted to give him some love back.”
And yes, Duke looks like a mere speed bump between the Seminoles and their shot to play for the national title, but who thought the Blue Devils would make it this far, either?
“I don’t think people expect us to do anything, win the Coastal or win this game today,” veteran cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “We look at everything, we look at ESPN, all that stuff. We see what they say about all the different scenarios. In our minds, there’s no scenario. The only scenario is Duke wins. That’s it. That’s what we did today.”
The Tar Heels gave it everything they had and led with less than five minutes to play. A couple dropped interceptions and a poorly timed personal foul ended up being the difference. Befitting a rivalry like this, this was no slam dunk for Duke.
In the end, DeVon Edwards, the redshirt-freshman hero of the win over N.C. State, took care of another Triangle team, answering a North Carolina touchdown with a 99-yard kickoff return and sealing the win with an interception at midfield.
“Mr. November, we call him,” said wide receiver Jamison Crowder, an instrumental figure in Duke’s success himself.
And then the bell was ringing and Cutcliffe’s wife and children were hugging him at midfield after he finished his ESPN interview. He felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Foxx, who had talked it over with Sarmiento and assistant coach Scottie Montgomery, a former Duke receiver, on the sideline. The time had come.
“Coach, you deserve it,” Foxx told him. “We’re going to carry you off.”
Up Cutcliffe went.
Not once in 37 years of coaching, at Alabama and Tennessee and Ole Miss or anywhere else, had he been taken for a ride like this, carried off the field by the same players who believed he could take Duke football from the bottom to the top.
“I’m not in a sitting mood,” Cutcliffe said afterward, in the postgame press conference. “I’m in an on-the-go mood. Do you wonder why?”
After you’ve sat upon your players’ shoulders in triumph for the first time, how can anything else compare? It’s a view very few get to see. You can’t buy it. It’s priceless.