It’s hard enough thinking about Duke as a successful football program, making it to the ACC championship game for the first time in school history thanks to a 27-25 win over North Carolina, securing their first ever 10-win season. The Blue Devils have a chance to be major players in the national title picture if they manage to somehow stun undefeated Florida State.
It came down to making one more big play. It seems that hands were shaking for both quarterbacks in the final quarter, so we had to settle for two field goals – first by Thomas Moore to give the Tar Heels a 25-24 lead with 07:03 left to play, but then the even bigger one by Ross Martin, hitting three points from 27 yards to give Duke the two point lead with just over two minutes to go. North Carolina moved the chains, but Marquise Williams was intercepted by DeVon Edwards with 13 seconds remaining, officially ending the game.
All eyes and praise goes to David Cutcliffe, who took over the program in 2008. Duke went 2-33 in the three seasons before his arrival. They were without a winning season or a bowl game since 1994. But Cutcliffe immediatly turned the fortunes compared to what he had to work with. He’s gone 75-71 with Duke since taking the job, winning six games and making a bowl game last year, losing in the Belk Bowl. A year later, and suddenly playing in a BCS Bowl and winning the first conference championship since 1989 is only 60 minutes of football away.
Lets face it – despite the talent of Anthony Boone, who threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns; despite the efficient running game led by Jela Duncan and Josh Snead, Duke arrive at the conference championship game as the biggest underdogs in the nation when you compare the odds in the ACC game to the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and anywhere else. They’re only 50th in the nation in total offense and have allowed 23 points per game, including giving up 31 points against Troy, a win that began their eight game winning streak to close the season.
But this is a team that goes beyond the numbers – Like Edwards making the interception or Shaquille Powell having a big day on the ground compared to what Duke usually get from him, Duke simply make plays when they need it the most. It might not be enough to beat a Florida State that’s never had a single difficult challenge all season and look like the best team in the country, but it makes Duke a team you can’t take lightly no matter what the stat pages say.
When you get right down to what you want to train young folks to do, it’s that: be where you’re supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to be doing as well as you can possibly do it. That’s our one team rule, and that means on the practice field, in the classroom and socially. I have never been around a group of young men that have done that better. It’s easy to look forward to next week, but right now I think it’s OK to kind of revel in what we’ve just done.