Duke outlasted Indiana for ‘beautiful’ milestone win in Pinstripe Bowl

Chris Baird, Triangle Sports Network
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NEW YORK, N.Y. – The Duke Blue Devils capped off their 2015 season with a dramatic 44-41 overtime win over the Indiana Hoosiers to claim the New Era Pinstripe Bowl title and trophy in front of 37,218 in attendance at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.

Sure, the win gave the Blue Devils a final 8-5 overall record on the season, but the significance of the victory was more about the cathartic release that it provided as a milestone victory.

Duke hadn’t won a bowl game since 1961 when it won the Cotton Bowl with a 7-6 win over Arkansas – a 54-year drought that finally ended against Indiana.

The Blue Devils possessed an all-time record of 3-8 in bowl games coming into their 12th postseason appearance – a history that included playing in the Rose Bowl (1938 & 1941), Sugar Bowl (1944), Orange Bowl (1954 & 1957), Cotton Bowl (1960), All American Bowl (1989), Hall of Fame Bowl (1994), Belk Bowl (2012), Chick-fil-A Bowl (2013), and Hyundai Sun Bowl (2014).

With the win, David Cutcliffe extended his head coaching record in bowl games to 5-4 all-time, and participated in his 26th career bowl game.

Similar to the past three years, he knew what it would take to win.

However, after suffering three losses in as many seasons in his team’s postseason finales, what Cutcliffe didn’t know was how the bowl victory would finally play out.

“What an incredible season,” Cutcliffe said.

“The last three years we’ve been on the other side of the ledger of close bowl games. We had lost in the fourth quarter three years in a row. Overtime is a whole new level. Very proud of the display that both teams put on. A lot of people played hard and competed at a high level.”

Duke was playing in its fourth consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history, having lost in order, the Belk Bowl 48-34 to Cincinnati in 2012, the Chick-fil-A Bowl 52-48 to Texas A&M in 2013, and last year’s Hyundai Sun Bowl 36-31 to Arizona State.

The need and desire to win was critical for a senior class, the first in the program’s history, who knew nothing but success, and tied a school record with 33 wins that included the elusive bowl win.

Only the 1936, 1938, 1939 and 1941 classes left Duke with that accomplishment.

“Playing in our fourth consecutive bowl game means a great deal to our past, present and future Blue Devils,” Cutcliffe said in a press conference leading up to the game.

“This senior class is obviously a special one, and I could not be happier for a group of young men that has accomplished what no other class has done in the history of Duke Football with the four straight bowl game appearances. We are thrilled to keep building our program.”

Playing in this year’s Pinstripe matchup, pitting Power 5 conference reps from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the Big Ten Conference (B1G), the Blue Devils (8-5) and the Hoosiers (6-7) didn’t disappoint.

They met for the fourth time, playing three times in the early 1980s, with the Hoosiers taking two of three, while Duke won the last matchup, a 31-24 decision back in 1984.

With the win, the Blue Devils evened the series in a game that kept you watching right until the end – a memorable postseason finish that will stand out amongst a collection of dozens that will be played – 41 to be exact – by the time the NCAA football postseason ends.

Highlights: ACC Digital Network (TheACC.com) – Duke 44, Indiana 41 (OT)

The finish was fitting for Duke as all-time points leader, senior placekicker Ross Martin, scored the winning kick to post the victory.

In addition to exceptional performances from Duke’s Pinstripe Bowl co-MVP’s, quarterback Thomas Sirk (17-37, 163 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT – 20 rushes, 155 yards, 2 TD) and running back Shaun Wilson (9 rushes, 103 yards, 1 TD – 4 KO returns, 164 yards, 1 TD), Indiana kicker Griffin Oakes (2-4 FG) also played a critical role in the Blue Devils’ success.

The Hoosiers kicker missed his two final field goal attempts in the game.

With no time remaining in regulation, Oakes’ 56-yard kick didn’t make it and kept the Blue Devils in the game as both teams entered the overtime period tied at 41-41.

After Martin booted his 36-yard attempt through the uprights during the extra period to put Duke ahead, his third consecutive successful field goal attempt on the day, Oakes’ second miss from 38 yards, one that flirted with and hovered above the physical boundary of the right upright, ended the game in the Blue Devils’ favor.

While the missed kick left many on the Indiana sideline, especially Oakes, questioning that it was good, the officials on the field did not signal that its path made it between the posts.

Duke had won and the emotion that had been built up throughout the season, over the past three seasons, and for the last 54 years poured out onto the field.

Cutcliffe and his players celebrated in fitting fashion by proudly hoisting the trophy on a crowded stage with jubilant shouting, cheering, and plentiful embraces of gratitude throughout.

Though it didn’t win the ACC’s Coastal Division or the league championship, this year’s Duke squad won the next biggest and most significant game to show that the program’s development trajectory continued upward.

“Our team had a lot of heart,” Cutcliffe said afterwards.

“Our team had a lot of good leadership. Not necessarily I’m talking about tonight, but in the preparation and the focus. We had 23 seniors that were very committed to this process. It wasn’t all perfect tonight, but there was a will, a strong will, to prepare, a strong will to continue competing even when we fell behind in the fourth quarter. I think it was critical that we believed we could come out and pull this game out. If not the fourth quarter, then overtime.”

“We hadn’t won a bowl game since 1961, so just understand that,” he continued.

“For the first time in the history of Duke football, we’ve had three straight years of eight or more wins. That’s incredible from that regard. I like goals, but I like milestones better than I do goals. Milestones come along during the season for different reasons and different circumstances. First time ever eight or more wins – first time since 1961. That’s a milestone. There’s so many things happening in Duke football right now that that’s kind of how we approach it. We’ve had back-to-back consensus All-Americans two years in a row. I don’t know if that’s ever happened. There’s so many positives about our players. They’ve done this. Don’t mistake any part of it. These are all milestones that the players have accomplished on the field. That’s beautiful.”