Heartbreaker: Fumble at Cincy 5 with 1:20 left in 34-34 game buries Duke
A football season full of fighting history to accomplish memorable achievements fell a few yards short for Duke on Thursday night.
The final score of the Belk Bowl shows Cincinnati with a 48-34 win over the Blue Devils, who played in their first postseason bowl game in 18 years.
That score belies simply how close Duke (6-7) came to its first winning season since 1994 and its first bowl win since Jan. 2, 1961.
A look at Josh Snead’s face after the game showed the pain that came with coming so close.
Snead, a redshirt sophomore running back, was the ball carrier on the fourth-quarter play that turned the game in Cincinnati’s favor. But with 1:20 to play in a 34-34 game at the Cincinnati 5, Snead fumbled a handoff and turned the ball over to the Bearcats.
“Who knows? The exchange, I took my hand off carrying the ball, it popped out, somebody got their hand in there,” Snead said, struggling to explain the play that erased Duke’s chances to take the lead on either a touchdown or a short field goal.
It was a painful end to the game for Snead, who led Duke with 107 yards rushing.
A mere 36 seconds after the fumble, Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce rambled into the end zone at the end of an 83-yard pass play from quarterback Brendon Kay. That touchdown, with 44 seconds left, put the Bearcats (10-3) up 41-34.
“It seemed like he caught it and just ran,” Duke junior cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “They made a nice play. We didn’t make enough plays defensively to win.”
With 14 seconds left, Duke quarterback Sean Renfree was hit as he threw and the ball was intercepted by Cincinnati’s Nick Temple. He returned the ball 55 yards for a touchdown that completed the scoring.
“This feeling in our guts it obviously not very good right now,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “They made big plays. They made too many explosive plays and we didn’t finish our opportunities. It was as simple as that.”
Snead’s fumble was Duke’s second turnover inside the Bearcats 5 in the game. Freshman running back Jela Duncan lost the ball at the Cincinnati 1 just a few feet from a touchdown that would have put Duke up 23-3 in the second quarter.
The Blue Devils had four turnovers in the game, while Cincinnati had none.
Duke took a 16-0 lead in the first quarter before the Bearcats ran off 27 consecutive points to lead 27-16 midway through the third quarter.
“They made more plays than us tonight,” Cockrell said. “That’s kind of how it went all night.”
Renfree, though, brought Duke back. The redshirt senior, who completed 37 of 49 for 358 yards, completed seven passes in a row on a touchdown drive that cut Cincinnati’s lead to 27-24. Renfree tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Conner Vernon and a two-point conversion pass to Issac Blakeney.
With 12:45 to play, Brandon Connette completed a 2-yard touchdown pass to David Reeves to put Duke up 31-27.
But the Bearcats, who amassed 554 total yards of offense, moved the ball down field again. Kay’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Chris Moore put Cincinnati up 34-31.
Ross Martin’s Belk Bowl record 52-yard field goal with 7:24 to play tied the game at 34 and set the stage for the game’s final memorable plays.
“We played well enough to win the ballgame,” Cutcliffe said. “There’s no question this is a bowl-worthy team we had at Duke, not just a bowl eligible team.”
The first quarter couldn’t have gone much better for the Blue Devils, who scored on their first two offensive possessions before adding a special-teams touchdown for a 16-0 lead.
Taking the opening kickoff, the Blue Devils marched 79 yards on eight plays for a touchdown. Duke mixed the run and the pass effectively, with five rushes and three passes. Brandon Connette ran five yards for the touchdown.
But Martin, who didn’t miss an extra-point kick in the regular season, had his attempt blocked. Martin picked up the ball and attempted to run for a 2-point conversion, but was stopped at the 1 to leave Duke with a 6-0 lead.
Renfree’s 16-yard pass to Jamison Crowder on Duke’s second possession moved the Blue Devils into Cincinnati territory again. Renfree also completed a pair of passes to Connette as Duke reached the Bearcats 16.
When the drive stalled, Martin booted a 33-yard field goal for a 9-0 lead.
The Blue Devils defense, which struggled the last half of the season, recorded its second 3-and-out series. But on Cincinnati’s punt attempt, Duke’s Tony Foster blocked the punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for a 16-0 Blue Devils lead.
But the Bearcats began their comeback on their final drive of the first quarter. Kay’s 20-yard scramble and a 24-yard run by George Wynn set up a 45-yard Tony Miliano field goal.
In the second quarter, the Bearcats found the holes in the Duke defense that have been exploited far too often in the second half of the season. Cincinnati had touchdown drives of 54 and 98 yards to take a 17-16 halftime lead.
The Bearcats racked up 189 yards of total offense in the second quarter, after managing just 60 in the game’s first 15 minutes.
Anthony McClung caught a 25-yard pass from Kay for Cincinnati’s first touchdown. The second came with 42 seconds left in the half on Kay’s 41-yard pass to Rd Abernathy.
But before the Bearcats scored their first touchdown, Duke missed a golden opportunity to keep momentum on its side. Renfree completed 7 of 8 passes on a drive that started at the Duke 25.
On the last pass, however, Duncan caught the ball inside the 5 and turned toward the end zone. But Bearcats linebacker Greg Blair knocked the ball loose for a fumble and recovered it at the Cincinnati 1.
That play stopped Duke momentum and open the door for Cincinnati to win a game the Blue Devils needed to make history.
CINCINNATI 48, DUKE 34
First Quarter Duke—Connette 5 run (kick blocked), 11:48. Duke—FG Martin 33, 6:12. Duke—Foster 0 blocked punt return (Martin kick), 4:45. Cin—FG Miliano 45, 1:43. Second Quarter Cin—McClung 25 pass from Kay (Miliano kick), 4:02. Cin—Abernathy 41 pass from Kay (Miliano kick), :42. Third Quarter Cin—FG Miliano 27, 10:02. Cin—Winn 46 run (Miliano kick), 7:41. Duke—Vernon 10 pass from Renfree (Blakeney pass from Renfree), 3:00. Fourth Quarter Duke—Reeves 2 pass from Connette (Martin kick), 12:45. Cin—Moore 25 pass from Kay (Miliano kick), 11:19. Duke—FG Martin 52, 7:24. Cin—Kelce 83 pass from Kay (Miliano kick), :44. Cin—Temple 55 interception return (Miliano kick), :14. A—48,128.
|Time of Possession||26:18||33:42|
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS RUSHING—Cincinnati, Winn 16-130, Kay 10-76, McClung 1-14, Luallen 1-2. Duke, Snead 17-107, Duncan 10-37, Thompson 4-30, Crowder 1-12, Connette 5-8, Renfree 2-6. PASSING—Cincinnati, Kay 17-25-0-332. Duke, Renfree 37-49-2-358, Connette 1-1-0-2. RECEIVING—Cincinnati, Kelce 5-123, McClung 3-110, Abernathy 3-44, Winn 3-12, Thompkins 2-18, Moore 1-25. Duke, Vernon 10-119, Crowder 6-49, Scott 5-60, Duncan 5-27, Connette 4-31, Blakeney 3-26, Thompson 2-35, Reeves 2-8, Snead 1-5.