Offense, special teams shine in heartbreaking loss

Jan. 01, 2014 @ 12:49 AM

Duke’s offense and special teams were dominant factors Tuesday night as Duke almost pulled off a stunning win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Front and center in those efforts was running back Josh Snead, who scored touchdowns rushing and receiving and also blocked a punt in the first half. Still, it wasn’t enough in Texas A&M’s 52-48 win at the Georgia Dome, as the Blue Devils failed to win a bowl game for the 52nd straight year.

“It hurts more because we put a lot of work in,” Snead said. “But we’re Duke men with character, and we’ll get through this.”

The Aggies sealed the win by intercepting Anthony Boone twice in the final four minutes. If anyone knows how Boone feels, it’s Snead — last year the Blue Devils were tied with 1:20 left in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati and were driving for the go-ahead score when Snead fumbled at the 5. The Bearcats recovered and went on to win by 14.

“It’s going to hurt,” Snead said. “He just has to get over and come back next year stronger and better. No one wants to be in that situation, when they feel that the weight was all on him. But it wasn’t on him. We’re a team.”

Boone can look at Snead as an example of what to do next. The junior from Smithfield promised to work harder on ball security — he didn’t fumble in 2013 — and had another chance to shine in a bowl game this season after leading rusher Jela Duncan was suspended last week by Duke because of an academic violation.

Snead opened the scoring by catching an 11-yard screen pass from Boone, putting the Blue Devils ahead 7-0 six minutes in.

Later in the quarter, Snead used his speed to come around the edge and post Duke’s first punt block of the season. The Blue Devils recovered the ball at the Texas A&M 24, and scored three plays later to take a 21-3 lead.

The teams traded touchdowns throughout the second quarter, but after Duke twice went for it successfully on fourth down, Snead added his second touchdown. Starting at the 25, Snead wove around defenders and fought through contact at the goal line to put the Blue Devils up 35-17.

Snead’s efforts helped Duke rack up 38 first-half points, the most it had scored in a half since putting up 41 against Wake Forest in 1999.

Besides Duncan, Duke was also without senior right tackle Perry Simmons, who had started 50 straight games and played more than 3,700 snaps before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the ACC championship game against Florida State.

Still, the Blue Devils finished the game with 234 yards rushing, their 12th game this year with more than 120 yards on the ground. Duke’s rushing average of 173.7 yards per game entering Tuesday was the best mark since 1977.

Snead finished with a game-high 104 rushing yards on 17 carries. But like most everything else with Duke, the run game stalled in the middle part of the game, allowing the Aggies to get back in it.

Blue Devils running back Shaquille Powell was stuffed at the 1 with four seconds left in the first half, forcing a short field goal. And late in the third quarter, Duke failed to punch it in after having first-and-goal from the 4, with Snead getting stopped on third down.

Those missed points proved costly, and after Texas A&M scored touchdowns on its first five possessions of the second half, Duke lost the lead.

The result was a second straight year with a devastating bowl finish for the Blue Devils. But Snead felt that making bowl games in consecutive years for the first time in program history showed that a happy finish is coming soon.

“We put ourselves in a situation where we’re a football team — we’re a football school,” Snead said. “Believe that we play football here — we’re not just smart guys. Football is here to stay, and we’re going to be great contenders in the ACC.”