Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon (2) reels in a first-half pass over Wake Forest safety Daniel Mack. CHUCK LIDDY
Updated 6 p.m.
WINSTON-SALEM -- The streak is over.
For the first time since 1999, a span a 12 games, Duke defeated Wake Forest 34-27. And the Blue Devils did it despite five lost starters during the contest and a late momentum swing in the Demon Deacons favor that could have derailed their efforts.
“Just finally ending that streak is huge,” said Duke senior wide receiver Conner Vernon, who also called it the biggest win of his career. “Right now, it’s kind of like you’re on Cloud 9 a little bit, just finally getting over that hump.”
It was not easy for Duke (4-1, 1-0 in the ACC), which is now off to its best start since 1994, the season of its most recent bowl appearance. Some early established patterns, though—commitment to the running game, error-free special teams and a propensity for generating turnovers—proved to be difference makers down the stretch.
The Blue Devils’ defense, which lost two starters on the opening drive and five total over the course of the game, harassed Wake Forest (3-2, 2-1) into four turnovers—twice as many as the Demon Deacons had in their previous four games combined. It was the third takeaway, a sack and forced fumble by Jordon DeWalt-Ondijo, that led to Duke’s go-ahead drive with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
DeWalt-Ondijo, who forced the fumble that led to Duke’s game-winning drive against FIU in 2010, hit Wake Forest QB Tanner Price as he dropped back to throw. Defensive lineman Jonathan Woodruff recovered, and Duke took over on the Wake Forest 8-yard line.
“It’s been amazing,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said of his defense. “If you start counting the number of players not out there, we just keep having people step up.”
Two plays after the fumble recovery, backup quarterback Anthony Boone, who had entered the game on the previous series, executed a perfect fake handoff to freshman Jela Duncan. Boone kept the ball himself and rolled out down the right sideline for what ended up as the game-winning score.
“When Sean went down, everybody looked at me and said, ‘time to go,’” Boone said. “Everyone has confidence in me, and that brings confidence in myself.”
Duncan added an insurance touchdown on a 17-yard run with less than two minutes remaining after Duke forced the second Price interception on the day.
The Blue Devils’ 14 answered points in the fourth quarter came after the Demon Deacons scored 10 points of their own in 2:09 late in the third quarter. Trailing by 10 and missing the ACC’s leading receiver, Michael Campanaro, due to a broken hand sustain in the first half, Wake Forest rattled off the third-longest drive in school history. The 98-yard drive included a third-and-9 conversion from the the 3-yard line, with Price finding Deandre Martin for a 36-yard game. A 34-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Bohanan made narrowed the deficit to 20-17.
On the next offensive play for Duke, Renfree was hit as he threw by Chibuikem Okoro, a reserve cornerback, and defensive Zach Thompson came down with the interception at the Duke 20-yard line. A 28-yard field goal from Newman tied it at 20-20.
But unlike seemingly every other recent game in the series, it was Duke that made the key fourth-quarter plays. That led to the victory at BB&T Field. Duke is hoping it leads to a few more.
“It just goes to show that, finally, this team is here to play,” Vernon said. “It goes to show the rest of the teams in the league also that we’re not just an easy win anymore.”
Wake Forest lost an ACC home game to an in-state opponent for the first time since 2004, when UNC beat the Demon Deacons Nov. 13, 2004
For the first time this year, the Blue Devils ran the ball more than they passed. The trio of Jela Duncan, Juwan Thompson and Josh Snead spearheaded the 36 carry, 123-yard effort.