Duke RB Jela Duncan is just barely stopped as Miami LB Denzel Perryman makes a shoestring tacklein the fourth quarter. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
DURHAM -- Duke closed the regular season Saturday with a 52-45 loss to Miami, but unlike every other season since 1994 the Blue Devils still have football to play.
A fourth straight loss left Duke 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the ACC. The Devils are eligible for their first bowl since '94, and Belk Bowl executive director Will Webb was at Wade Stadium to watch the game.
The Blue Devils, on Senior Day, got a 99-yard scoring pass from Sean Renfree to Jamison Crowder in the fourth quarter -- the longest play from scrimmage in Duke history -- and had more than enough offense. Renfree passed for 432 yards and four TDs, Crowder had eight grabs for 203 yards and two TDs and Conner Vernon 11 catches for 109 yards and two scores.
But the Devils defense couldn't stop Miami's big-play offense enough times. Stephen Morris passed for 369 yards and three TDs while freshman running back Duke Johnson rushed for 181 yards and three scores.
The Hurricanes closed out a 7-5 season. Miami finished 5-3 in the Coastal Division and beat Georgia Tech, but the Hurricanes won't play for the ACC title and won't play in a bowl because of a self-imposed sanction related to a pending NCAA investigation.
The Devils trailed 45-24 early in the fourth quarter and Miami appeared to score when Johnson hit tight end Clive Walford on a 1-yard jump-pass on fourth and goal. But Walford was ruled to have trapped the ball on review, and Renfree then teamed with Crowder for the 99-yard play.
The Devils then pulled within 45-38 with 7:56 left in the fourth on Renfree's 6-yard pass to Conner Vernon. But the Canes immediately answered on Stephen Morris hit wideout Herb Waters for a 65-yard catch-and-run TD.
A one-yard run by Duke's Brandon Connette with 2:32 to play made it a 45-38 game with 2:32 left in the fourth, but the Devils' onside kick went out of bounds.
Trailing 28-10 at the half and 31-10 early in the third quarter, Duke fought back to within 31-24 on a 10-yard TD grab by Vernon and Crowder's 23-yard TD grab.
But Johnson broke off a 65-yard run for his third TD of the game. When running back Mike James scored on a 72-yard screen pass, skirting the right sideline, Miami's lead was 45-24.
The Hurricanes scored on back-to-back possessions in the first period for a 14-0 lead in what could have been an early knockout punch.
Morris hit Walford for an 11-yard TD for the Canes' first score and a 35-yard completion to Walford over the middle keyed Miami's second scoring drive. Johnson ran in from 16 yards and it was 14-0 with 5:19 left in the first quarter.
Duke's offense had been stuck in neutral to that point. But the Devils put together a drive that ended with Ross Martin kicking a 43-yard field goal and then tried to catch the Canes napping with an onside kick. Miami recovered at the Duke 48, but the Devils' defense forced a three-and-out series.
The Devils went 81 yards in 15 plays, with Vernon catching four balls, to make it a 14-10 game. On second-and-goal from the 4, quarterback Brandon Connette dropped the snap but scooped up the ball and scored his sixth rushing TD -- 15th of his career -- of the season.
Vernon, the ACC's alltime leader in career receptions and receiving yards, now has catches in 47 straight games -- the longest active FBS streak in the nation.
But the Hurricanes answered Duke's long drive with one of their own: a 9-play, 75-yard drive to push the lead to 21-10. A 36-yard pass to Walford keyed the drive, and on third-and-goal from the 6, Johnson ran off the right side for his second TD.
In a decision late in the half that failed, Duke coach David Cutcliffe orderered up a fake punt and the Canes stuffed it. On fourth-and-8, Connette was stopped for 1 yard at the Duke 47 with 2:36 left in the half.
The Canes converted a third down on a 19-yard completion to Phillip Dorsett, and Miami scored with eight seconds remaining on Mike James' 1-yard dive for a 28-10 lead.
Teh Devils' bowl destination is still to be determined. If it's the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, the opponent could be Cincinnati or Syracuse of the Big East.