Duke's Thomas Sirk on the Blue Devils' bowl win
Laugh about it. Cry about it. Almost break a stage while celebrating it. Duke did all that and then some after beating Indiana 44-41, in overtime, to win the Pinstripe Bowl and the program’s first bowl since 1961.
“We have to have the record for the best bowl games ever to be played, anywhere, because our games are crazy,” running back Shaquille Powell said. “And they always go down to the fourth quarter, sometimes even over that. We already knew what to expect.”
Like the Blue Devils’ bowls of the past three years, this one featured a roller coaster of momentum swings. At times, the game was a comedy of errors. Then those were followed by dramatic game-changing plays. Unsuccessful fake punts and onside kicks, running backs throwing interceptions, kickoffs going for touchdowns, a failed fourth-and-2 in a tie game with just 6:07 left, this game had it all. And that was just what Duke did.
There were two different ties in the fourth quarter. And there was one final kick that had some wondering whether it went through the goalpost or not.
Indiana kicker Griffin Oakes had missed a 56-yard kick wide left at the end of regulation. With the Hoosiers needing to answer Duke’s overtime field goal to extend the game, Oakes’s 38-yard attempt appeared to at least partially go over the right upright. According to the rule, the ball must by completely inside the upright, and the referee under the right post ruled the kick no good, setting off a wild celebration on the Duke sideline that poured onto the field. Nearly the whole team jumped onto the quickly erected temporary stage at midfield, and the Blue Devils nearly brought it down as the confetti flew.
After the game, Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson was not one of those wondering about the field goal call.
“It wasn’t good,” he said.
Duke kicker Ross Martin, whose 36-yard field goal in the first overtime possession won the game, held the same opinion.
“No, absolutely not,” he said, emphatically, with a grin. “If my kick at Wake Forest wasn't good, then this one absolutely wasn't good.”
At several points, particularly in the second half, it looked like the Blue Devils had lost all the momentum and were just one play away from a fourth straight bowl loss.
Quarterback Thomas Sirk never found a passing rhythm, completing just 46 percent of his attempts (17-for-37) for 163 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. But he did extend drives with his feat, rushing for a team-high 155 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, an average of 7.8 yards per carry. He ran until he couldn’t—Indiana knocked him from the game on the second play of overtime, as 300-pound defensive tackle Darius Latham crushed him on a 5-yard run up the gut. Sirk injured his left knee and had to be helped off the field. Backup quarterback Parker Boehme came in for third down, and his one snap ended with a tipped pass that fell incomplete. Martin’s 36-yard field goal gave Duke the 44-41 lead and turned the game over to the defense.
“You have some ups and downs, but it's all about overcoming them and carrying the momentum and getting your teammates hyped and just being able to motivate each other when you see somebody down,” Duke cornerback DeVon Edwards said. “That's something that we struggled with earlier in the season when we hit a slump losing games.
“Just look at us at the beginning of the season. We were hype about every series we went out there. We just had to get back to that mentality of having each other's back and have fun out there, not trying to do it all on one play.”
The defense made three plays when it counted most, giving the Hoosiers just four yards in three snaps before Oakes attempted his 38-yard field goal.
Duke had to mount a last-gasp, game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter just to force overtime. With four minutes remaining, Indiana held a 41-34 lead. Sirk was just 3-for-10 for 30 yards through the air in the second half to that point. But then he went 6-for-10 for 64 yards on Duke’s 13-play, 78-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 41-41 with 41 seconds remaining. An 8-yard completion to Max McCaffrey on fourth-and-2 near midfield kept the drive alive.
Duke was down three different times in the second half, but it was never more than a one-possession game. It looked bleakest for Duke when Indiana added a field-goal to an existing fourth-quarter lead at 34-27. Then running back Shaun Wilson took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards to tie the score with 10:55 left.
“The lead never got out of reach or anything like that,” Powell said. “Faith was never lacking. I already knew what everyone was capable of. We all wanted it so bad.
“We practiced so damn hard these last couple of weeks, harder than I've ever practiced at Duke. And I just knew that we were going to come together as a team, and we were going to get through this. We've been in this situation, we've been in close games, we've been in overtime games. We have the experience. We've been to bowl games. We just knew what to do.”
Powell is a senior, and in Duke’s past three bowl games, the Blue Devils blew fourth-quarter leads. This year, Duke never led in the fourth quarter. Maybe that’s the key to victory.
“It's finally good to jump around in the locker room and celebrate up on stage,” said Martin, also a senior. “I think we're 4-for-4 in the most exciting bowl games every year.”