It had been more than a month since Duke had been able to sing.
After every victory, the Blue Devils have a song called “We are Duke” that head coach David Cutcliffe leads in the locker room. And Saturday’s 27-21 win at Wake Forest snapped a four-game losing streak, letting Duke sing for the first time since the win at Virginia Tech on Oct. 24
“About time we can sing again,” said DeVon Edwards, who moved from his normal safety spot to one of the cornerback positions.
Unlike in the past four weeks, the losses to Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia, the Blue Devils didn’t make dumb mistakes to beat themselves. It was the first turnover-free game Duke played since that four-overtime win at Virginia Tech. Quarterback Thomas Sirk, who has been limited with back and elbow injuries for the past few weeks, played well on Saturday, so well that backup Parker Boehme only played one series (Duke’s second of the game, a quick three-and-out). Sirk completed 66.7 percent of his passes (26-for-39) for 275 yards and also led Duke with 57 rushing yards on 16 carries.
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Sirk and the rest of the Blue Devils, who have the bumps and bruises that result from a 13-week season, will have about a month to rest before Duke (7-5, 4-4 ACC) plays in its fourth consecutive bowl game.
And it’s always easier to recover after a win than it is after a loss.
“When you win a football game, the effort that you’ve put in, the next day, everything hurts less when you win,” tight end Braxton Deaver said. “That’s what they say, you catch the football, it hurts less – when you win, I could have a broken leg and still be smiling the next day.”
Unsurprisingly, the mental recovery is easier, too.
“It’s one of those things where you work so hard all year round. We practice so hard every week that the only thing that is truly satisfying is winning a football game,” Deaver said. “And when you lose, it’s like all the air gets let out of you. It’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘We worked so hard, why didn’t it turn out well for us?’ When it does turn out on our side, it’s exhilarating. We sing.”
For Jeremy Cash, the biggest difference between winning and losing is more practical: there are, inevitably, fewer mistakes to dwell on in the game’s aftermath. Cash was reduced to watching on a TV in the locker room for the first half in Winston-Salem – a result of his targeting ejection in the second half of last week’s loss at Virginia. He was back, however, for the second half, finishing with seven tackles, tied for second-most on the team.
Wake Forest (3-9, 1-7 ACC) wasn’t able to take advantage of Cash’s absence, recording only four first downs in the first half. That half ended with Duke up 17-7, thanks to a Sirk-to-Max McCaffrey connection, a Sirk run and a 51-yard Ross Martin field goal. A missed 28 yard-field goal by the Demon Deacons to open the second half, followed by an 80-yard Duke touchdown drive, made for a tough comeback attempt.
But still, Duke had to punt the ball with 7 seconds left on the game clock, giving Wake Forest a chance at a miracle return. Stranger things have happened this year – like Miami’s eight-lateral kickoff return touchdown (complete with several officiating mistakes that should have nullified it) that sent the Blue Devils into their four-game tailspin. But punter Will Monday booted the ball 42 yards to the Wake Forest 1-yard line, and return man Tabari Hines was tackled at the 5 yard line.
“I don’t like to think about that game that we lost on that kickoff,” Deaver said. “But I will say that, yes, it was fitting that we ended it on a special teams play like that. It made it even more special.
“The past couple of weeks have been a little rough for us,” Deaver said. “We were pretty accustomed to winning there for a little bit. To get that taste of a win – not only is it a win great for our program, but it makes you remember what it feels like and to keep playing as well as we played today.”
And that’s music to the Blue Devils’ ears.