The Duke Football Essay Project: Boston College

Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.

I still can’t believe this happened. After thoroughly outplaying Boston College on the road, in every facet of the game, Duke was going to break our hearts again. I look at the numbers today, and I can feel the anger from a hypothetical loss welling up. We could have had just our third ACC road win since 2003! We had 465 yards of total offense! The had 328! Renfree set a school record with 40 completions! Thompson averaged five yards a carry! Rettig for BC barely completed half his passes! We held them to 3.2 yards per carry!


And then I remember: we did.

Duke football, with its awful game coaching and bad luck and doomed existence, somehow fucked up so badly that it swung the pendulum a full 180 degrees and infected the opposition. When Nate Freese came out for that game-winner, a 23-yard chip shot, I was amazed at the look of fear in his eyes. I can’t find the pre-kick video anywhere, but anyone watching will remember. He just stood there in abject terror, facing what should have been one of the easiest field goals of his life.

As a kid, I rooted for Notre Dame, and I still remember when Boston College’s David Gordon booted an ugly 41-yarder on the last game of the 1993 season to ruin the hopes of an Irish national championship. Now, 18 years later, a strange retribution. Boston College kickers taketh away, Boston College kickers giveth.

So, huzzah for the win. Really. I like to think Duke was owed the result after the Richmond debacle. But my God, dios mio, we need to do something about this team.

How do you rack up that many yards and only score 20 points? Let’s look at the second half. Three trips to the red zone. Seven points. And those points came after a dubious QB sneak that was part touchdown, part disastrous fumble. Before that, our backup kicker shanked a 33-yard field goal, and before that, our tight end dropped a pass that fell in the hands of a defender near the goal line.

We can also look at the first half. Alex King’s weird proclivity to run with the ball before he punts finally cost us big when BC came up with a block and a touchdown on the resulting short field. Cutcliffe/Roper and their short pass blues struck again on the first drive, damning the devils to a five-yard pass on 3rd-and-7. The self-destructive penalties were on scene too, driving Duke to the ill-fated after a false start took away a 4th-and-1. On the next drive, it happened again in the same down and distance with a delay of game. And that was just in the first quarter!

All the while, the offense was racking up yards and the defense did solid work containing the Eagles. This is the inherent frustration of Duke football; between all the disasters, a competent team is out there on the field, functioning pretty well.

Things started to click in the second quarter. We saw our first glorious passing drive of the game, a four-play blitzkrieg capped by Renfree’s 53-yard strike to Connor Vernon (followed by a truly baffling unsportsmanlike conduct call, apparently impelled when he pointed at the stands). But a failed drive later, and BC took a 12-point lead on Andre Williams’ 7-yard run. That felt like the end, to be honest. The defense looked worn down, and the offense wasn’t capitalizing on their gains. 19-7 seemed like the beginning of the end, especially on the road.

Then came the most important drive of the season. With 1:21 on the clock and halftime beckoning, Renfree marched the Devils 52 yards, and Vernon scored his second touchdown. Cutcliffe gave a funny halftime interview where he called himself a medicine man, and suddenly the game had a different feel.

But the third quarter was all missed opportunities for Duke, and the score remained the same going into the fourth. The defense had stood tall in the second half, allowing BC just one first down on each of their three possessions in the quarter, but how long until fatigue set in and they broke down like they had before the half?

Luckily, Duke ran off five minutes on the next drive, scoring on the Renfree sneak, taking a 20-19 lead, and giving the defense a chance to gather themselves. This reprieve paid off when they rose to the occasion again, stopping BC on a 3-and-out. One more score by the offense, and the game would have felt safe. It nearly happened, too. Renfree drove the team to the BC 30, but two straight incompletions made it 4th-and-5. The old Snyderwine, the 2010 All-American, might have booted the 47-yarder for a bit of insurance, but Cutcliffe wanted no part of the kickers. Duke went for it, and failed.

Amazingly, three straight incomplete passes by the Eagles turned it back over to the Devils. Again, the momentum was firmly ours. With 4:15 left, a pair of first downs would have ended the game. But Duke had to settle for one. Renfree was sacked on a 3rd-and-5, giving BC one last chance.

And finally, like most of us had been expecting the entire quarter, the defense lost its steam. It took just two long passes for the Eagles to reach the Duke 14, and here it was, the heartbreak narrative playing out all over again. They were well within field goal range for Freese, who had nailed from 43 and 47 already. But the truth was, they probably wouldn’t even need him. A 9-yard run by Andre Williams made it 3rd-and-1 for BC at the 5-yard line, and it seemed like the Eagles would pound it in like they had in the first half. The dream of the season’s first win was effectively over.

Then Walt Canty made an irrelevant tackle that became the biggest play of the year. With Williams rushing on the left side, Canty stepped up and took his legs out, upending him just before the first down. It was a great play, a touchdown-saving hit that kept Duke alive, albeit temporarily.

But again, it wouldn’t matter. The ragged breath of our team was about to falter and cease. Nate Freese trotted out for the 23-yard gimme, a punctuation mark on another missed opportunity. Yet again, Duke fans would have to consider the annoying question; was it bad luck, poor play, or ignorant coaching that had lost the game? Who had let us down? What’s the answer? When will this stop happening?

And then that stricken look came over Freese, and you had to start wondering. There’s no way. There’s no way, right? He just can’t miss. He won’t miss. Stop believing. You’re only hurting yourself. He won’t miss.

But the uprights are only so wide, baby.


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8 Responses to The Duke Football Essay Project: Boston College

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  1. Tbone says:

    For the most part, it was an impressive game for the Dukies as the stats bear out. I am more confident about this team than I have ever been. Watch out. Forget the improbable #1 ranking, but could a bowl game in the future???

  2. I saw it too says:

    I saw it in his eyes as well. The kicker looked scared, and I too had that same fantastical thought, what if he blows this cupcake opportunity. I laughed at the absurdness of that hope, but still there was something in his terrified look and deep breaths that made me wonder, would he miss?

    Someone pull out the genealogical tree! The BC kicker must somehow be related to the Duke kicker of the 07-08 season.

    1. Shane says:

      The really bad part about that miss is I’ll now hope for similar misses every time a kicker lines up for a crucial short field goal, and it may literally never happen again. Still, I’ll take it.

  3. Cavdevil says:

    The ” infecting” comment was as usual spot-on. God, I have felt that way sooooo many times.

    Looking at the video, what are the chances of a kicker (who is kicking left to right) foul balls it off the LEFT field goal post! Most kickers couldn’t do that if they tried!

    1. Shane says:

      Yeah, I have no idea. I guess if you’re afraid of pushing it right you can over-compensate and hook it, but from so close it seems like it should be a gimme. At least for anyone but Duke.

  4. ChicagoDukie says:

    It’s the helmet logo. We simply have to get a better helmet logo, or we are destined for football mediocrity, punctuated by the occassional lucky break. Horns? A pitchfork? A Bible with blue flames? Something.

  5. Cavdevil says:

    Agreed. One other thing that you touched on in an earlier article was the pass setting up the run. Roper/ Cut tried to go with a more conventional approach early vs UR. The first game needs to be a “layup” if you go that route. An NC Central, VMI, etc.

    I have found that college football coaches are so intent upon going vanilla the first game so as not to tip off the Week 2 or 3 opponent and so
    forth. You don’t find that as much in the pros. Remember when The Dolphins pulled out The Wildcat about 3-4 yrs ago?

    If you’re Duke then you can’t afford to do that unless you play a non top 20 FBS school. You have to be who you are in Week 3 in Week 1 if you have scheduled a school like Richmond.

  6. Cavdevil says:

    Love those ideas, but the Iron D is sharp. Much better than that cursive nonsense!

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