DURHAM, N.C. – The 22nd-ranked Duke Blue Devils suffered a devastating 30-27 loss to the Miami Hurricanes on Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.
After trailing 14-3 at halftime, Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk (31-52, 258 yards, 1 TD, 1 sack) led the Duke offense to take a 27-24 lead with six seconds remaining.
What happened after that is one of the most bizarre endings to an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) football game this season – possibly ever.
It actually made sense that it happened on Halloween with as many enchanting, yet weird elements that all combined to present themselves to thrill and horrify those in attendance and watching on a national broadcast.
Even before the opening kickoff, the 13th in the two teams all-time history and one in which the Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2) held a dominant 10-2 record including a 5-1 record when traveling to the Bull City, there was much news surrounding the Hurricanes.
Larry Scott assumed Miami’s head coaching responsibilities for the first time as former head coach Al Golden was relieved of his duties on Oct. 25, following a 58-0 loss to Clemson.
With starting quarterback Brad Kaaya out due to injury, redshirt-freshman backup Malik Rosier Jr. (20-29, 272 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack) made his first collegiate start for the Hurricanes.
Who knew how this team would react against a Blue Devils team that was undefeated in league play and had won four in a row with a 6-1 record.
It took only eight seconds for the first tackle of the game to shake everyone up.
During the Hurricanes’ opening kick return, Duke’s Alonzo Saxton II laid a chest-level hit on Mark Walton that stopped him cold and knocked the ball loose from his grasp.
Duke recovered it on the Miami 22-yard line and got its first opportunity to score.
However, the Blue Devils were unable to convert on it as the Miami defense denied Sirk from orchestrating any plays that made it past the goal line.
On fourth down with one yard to go, backup quarterback Parker Boehme came in to run the ball in, but couldn’t.
It continued to be a defensive battle throughout the opening quarter as both teams remained scoreless and totaled 99 yards combined.
That changed during the second quarter and beyond as both teams executed their offenses to quadruple their yardage gains.
Duke finished with 440 total yards while Miami totaled 391.
Just 56 seconds into the second quarter, one of many controversial calls gave Miami the ball on its own 13-yard line and set the stage for the first score of the game.
Duke receiver Max McCaffrey’s catch, one of nine on the day for 90 yards, was ruled a fumble after he was tackled, but apparently not with control which resulted in the ball being stripped away from him and recovered by Miami tackle Courtel Jenkins.
From there, Rosier orchestrated a five-play, 87-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to wide receiver Herb Waters that gave Miami a 7-0 lead following a successful PAT.
A shanked punt by Will Monday then put the Hurricanes on the Duke 35 – ideal field position from which to convert another scoring drive.
Rosier looked comfortable while working the ball on the ground and in the air as the Hurricanes scored again, albeit on a play that involved tackle Sunny Odogwu jumping on a loose ball after being fumbled by running back Walter Tucker.’
Miami led 14-0, and Sirk and the Duke offense continued to struggle during the first half.
Tensions ran high as unsportsmanlike penalties were assessed to each team with 7:03 remaining.
After making a catch for a first down, Duke’s Terrence Alls (5 catches, 45 yards) was aggressively tackled by cornerback Artie Burns (3 tackles) and the two exchanged words and chest bumps.
From there, Sirk began to move the chains, along with the help of the Hurricanes who racked up 194 penalty yards, and helped to put the Blue Devils in position to score.
However, Duke more often than not, was denied the opportunity to convert on many of those opportunities and the Blue Devils continued to struggle to get into the end zone.
“We were just trying to find openings in their defense and attack the openings in their zone,” Sirk said.
Placekicker Ross Martin put Duke on the board, converting on his first field goal attempt of the game from 27 yards with 3:22 remaining.
He had another opportunity to add to the Blue Devils’ total, but missed a 38-yarder wide.
Duke trailed Miami 14-3 at the half.
The Blue Devils went to work quickly to start the next quarter as running back Jela Duncan (7 carries, 51 yards) rushed for a 24-yard touchdown and cut the deficit to four points.
“They were giving us different looks,” Sirk said.
“We had to read the defense and I had to go through my progression. We had some man and some zone and we had to attack the coverages.”
As Rosier worked to move Miami up the field on its ensuing possession, Duke cornerback Jeremy McDuffie came up with an interception return to the Hurricanes’ 45-yard line.
It was another possession that Duke was unable to take advantage of.
The Blue Devils turned the ball back over to Miami after Monday failed to convert on fourth down off a fake punt and subsequent rush that came up short of the first down.
The Duke punter made up for his shortfall later in the quarter as his 52-yard boot hemmed the Hurricanes in on their own 10-yard line.
The Blue Devils earned a safety after Rosier tried to pass the ball, but was sacked in the end zone by defensive end Marquies Price, with the quarterback subsequently penalized for intentional grounding.
Duke trailed by two, 14-12, to start the fourth quarter.
All that hard work was negated soon after when Rosier connected with Stacy Coley (5 catches, 87 yards), and completed an eight-play, 88-yard drive to extend Miami’s lead to 21-12 with 11:02 to play.
The Hurricanes added a 37-yard field goal from placekicker Michael Badgley with just under six minutes to go and extended their advantage to 12 points.
Sirk tried valiantly to get Duke into the end zone, and eventually did.
He found McCaffrey open on fourth down to keep Duke’s drive alive with four minutes to play.
While he was sacked following the next snap, he found Alls open for another reception and first down.
A cut route, a catch, and an aggressive sprint and drive into the end zone by Johnell Barnes (3 catches, 23 yards) finally ended the Blue Devils’ 14-play, 75-yard drive with a touchdown.
Miami held a 24-19 lead with 2:40 to play.
Duke’s defense came up with the stops it needed following Miami’s first two snaps after a contested onside kick.
Safety Jeremy Cash and linebacker Dwayne Norman led the Blue Devils with 12 tackles and safety Devon Edwards recorded nine to lead the defense.
Duke got the ball back at its own 20-yard line with 1:50 to play, and Sirk started the two-minute drill.
Alls gained the first down on a pass from Sirk.
Another pass to McCaffrey earned another first down, and a subsequent pass-interference call then put Duke at the Miami 49-yard line 33 seconds later.
Tight end Braxton Deaver’s catch, one of four for 46 yards on the day, kept the chains moving as the Blue Devils had first down at the 34.
Another pass interference call moved Duke farther downfield to the 26-yard line.
Yet another penalty moved Duke to the 11-yard line.
A strike to Alls put Duke at the two with 29 seconds left.
The Blue Devils didn’t get in on second down from the one-yard line.
They finally did on third down as Sirk and the ball barely crossed the plane of the goal line with six seconds remaining.
A video review confirmed the play called on the field – it was a touchdown.
The successful two-point conversion run by Sirk seemed to have finalized the score and given Duke the 27-24 comeback win.
The 30,143 in attendance awaited the final whistle.
However, on the ensuing kickoff, an eight-lateral return that progressed over 75 yards with multiple questionable tackles and blocks enabled the ball to be carried into end zone courtesy of Corn Elder.
The play won the game for the Hurricanes and horrified the Blue Devils and their fans.
Following an extensive video review of the play, even Duke head coach David Cutcliffe didn’t get a clear, if any, explanation of why the play wasn’t overruled and stood as a touchdown.
“They didn’t tell me anything is the problem,” Cutcliffe said.
“The lack of communication was really disappointing.”
Speaking to his limits regarding his opinion on the situation, all the Duke head coach could do was prepare his team for its next game.
“It’s difficult for a prideful team to move forward, but we’ll move forward,” Cutcliffe concluded.
“We’ll prepare ourselves tomorrow, like we always do and go about our business. We have to let this go and let other people make commentary. This thing is going to be talked about for a while. It’s going to be replayed all night long and all day tomorrow. We just have to move forward.”
Highlights – ACC Digital Network (TheACC.com)