There’s just something about Duke and bowl games. Duke played in a bowl game for the fourth straight season, a first in program history, and for the fourth straight season the game came down to an exciting and chaotic finish. This game, like the previous three bowl games featured some big plays, some head scratching moments, and some huge momentum swings. In the end Duke found a way to win, something they hadn’t been able to do in their previous three attempts, and earned a huge program victory.
Call it karma, call it a lucky break, call it whatever you want. When IU’s game tying field goal attempt in overtime sailed over the goal post and was ruled no good it brought a sense of balance back to the program. The Blue Devils had given their all in each of the past three bowl games, yet lady luck was never on their side. Against Cincinnati, Duke fumbled twice at the goal line, among other moments of bad fortune. Against Texas A&M in 2013, the Blue Devils took a commanding lead only to see Johnny Manziel lead a comeback victory. And last season against Arizona State, Duke led a valiant comeback effort, but fell short when Anthony Boone was intercepted in the end zone on what would have been the game winning touchdown. Not only did the football gods send some good fortune Duke’s way for the hell they went through in postseasons past, but the Halloween debacle against Miami that nearly ruined the season left the Blue Devils feeling like something good had to be coming their way. Duke has played well in close games over the past few seasons, winning their fair share. But to emerge victorious in the postseason for once, means so much more.
It wasn’t a perfect day for the Duke offense. Thomas Sirk struggled throwing the ball. A fact that was even more frustrating considering Indiana’s poorly ranked passing defense. But Sirk got it done when it mattered most. With Duke trailing by seven and four minutes remaining, Sirk led a beautiful drive that included a fourth down conversion at midfield and was capped off with a five yard rushing TD by the quarterback with 41 seconds remaining. While Duke could never get much going through the air, the ground game was as good as ever. Thomas Sirk, Jela Duncan, and Shaun Wilson all topped 100 yards rushing. Wilson had the most impressive day, totalling 282 all purpose yards. He broke loose on an 85 yard touchdown run in the first half and took a kickoff 98 yards for a score in the fourth quarter when it seemed Duke had lost all momentum. All three will be back for Duke next year and figure to be big parts of the offense. Duke will be losing some key players on offense next season, but there appears to be plenty of reason to be excited about those returning too.
The elusive bowl victory is now behind them and the Duke football program can look to reach other lofty goals. No longer will we have to hear about the last Duke bowl victory in 1961. The current era of Duke Football has rewritten the history books. Four straight bowl appearances, three straight 8 win seasons, a Coastal Division title, an ACC DPOY, and so much more. Duke has accomplished all of these things in a short amount of time. With a highly ranked recruiting class coming in next season to join all the talent that is already Durham, what’s next for the Blue Devils? An ACC Championship? A run at the CFB Playoff? Is Duke ready to take another step up the college football ladder? Only time will tell. But for now let’s enjoy a sweet victory and appreciate all that the program has been able to accomplish. Its been a long time coming.