Luke DeCock

From start to wild finish, Pitt’s win over Duke was pure, unadulterated Coastal

Please, please, please Coastal Division, never change.

What would we do without your rampant mediocrity, your bizarre circumstances, your routine bending of the rules of football time and space?

Only in the ACC’s Coastal could a game with seven personal fouls and 10 turnovers and an ejection pivot on a do-over, a completed play replayed, just like kids in the street when a car comes through, but without the cries of “game off” and “game on.” And naturally, with the opposite result.

That Duke still managed to come back to take the lead in the final two minutes Friday despite seeing a late tie turn into a deficit when two points were wiped off the board was entirely in keeping with a game that was out of kilter from the start. That Pittsburgh then answered with 38 seconds left for a 33-30 win was pure, unadulterated Coastal.

Four years after Miami was gifted a game-winning touchdown return under Wallace Wade’s lights by gross officiating incompetence, Duke had a successful two-point conversion that appeared to tie the score in the fourth quarter thrown down the memory hole. Line judge Peter Beratta ran in, waving his arms to indicate an unsuccessful conversion, while Duke quarterback Quentin Harris was still fighting to get across the goal line. Then linemen Jack Wohlabaugh and Rakavius Chambers pushed Harris across and Beratta quickly thrust his arms in the air.

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The teams were already lined up for the kickoff after a TV timeout when referee Tra Blake, grimly, made the unfortunate announcement that due to an “inadvertent signal” the conversion had to be replayed. The scoreboard was adjusted from 26-26 to 26-24, and on the re-try of the try, Harris was stopped.

Premature signalation. It can happen to anyone.

Not that Duke didn’t have a long and varied catalog of errors of its own making, with Harris fumbling three times and throwing two interceptions, receiver Aaron Young throwing a pick on a reverse option pass and the Blue Devils botching a fourth-quarter fake punt. For all that, Duke scored 29 -- scratch that, 27 -- straight points to take its late and ill-fated lead, long after most of the fans had made a quiet exit.

After the conversion that didn’t happen, Duke forced a punt, drove the length of the field and scored thanks to a drive-saving targeting foul on an irate Paris Ford, who had to be escorted to the visiting locker room by Pitt police after being ejected.

Naturally, Duke whiffed on the two-point conversion -- on the first try this time -- and left enough time on the board for the Panthers to win it. Which they did, with 38 seconds to go, when V’Lique Carter slipped through Marquis Waters’ hands.

It was an Instant Coastal Classic, a product of the ACC’s secret laboratory where football’s most innovative coaches, players and officials find new ways to make a mockery of the game while simultaneously determining which team gets the honor of losing to Clemson in Charlotte.

The good news for Duke is that an early loss to Pittsburgh isn’t automatically disqualifying in the Coastal race, a good thing considering David Cutcliffe is now 1-6 against the Panthers. Duke did that in 2013, getting outgunned in a 58-55 inferno of offense, only to rip off eight straight wins on its way to the ACC championship game. That was so long ago, Florida State was good.

It’s clearly going to be one of Those Years in the Coastal. Georgia Tech is beyond rebuilding, a consequence of going from the triple option to the no-options-at-the-moment offense. Check back on the Jackets in three years. Miami and Virginia Tech are both in full-blown crisis mode. The teams that account for 11 of the 14 division champions are sitting this one out.

One of Duke, Virginia, North Carolina or Pittsburgh is going to have to pick up the pieces. Someone, raise your hand -- but, please, not until the play is truly over.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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