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Duke Finishes Strong

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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When it seemed team goals were slipping away, Duke proved to be at its best.

I felt like these young men cared enough about each other to climb back and accomplish something like this.
~David Cutcliffe

It was a season of streaks for Duke, one where the Blue Devils showed notable resiliency when it mattered most. After a devastating six-game losing skid during the middle of the year, Duke rallied to finish the regular season with two impressive wins, adding the program's biggest bowl victory in over 60 years with a memorable grand finale. The Blue Devils' throttled Northern Illinois 36-14 in the Quick Lane Bowl, winning the fifth postseason game in school history.

Following a five-point loss at Army in early November, Duke's bowl chances looked slim. Head coach David Cutcliffe stayed consistent with his message, however, and the Blue Devils responded. First came a dominant performance at Georgia Tech, one where Duke doubled-up the competition in first downs, compiling 500 total yards with just one penalty and zero turnovers. Eligibility was clinched when the Blue Devils finished off a fourth quarter comeback at Wake Forest, outscoring the Demon Deacons 21-3 over the game's final 22 minutes.

When it seemed team goals were slipping away, Duke proved to be at its best; the end result is another winning season, the program's fourth in five years, a standard only previously met from 1960-1964. Coupled with the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl, the Blue Devils have now won consecutive postseason games for just the second time ever. Cutcliffe joins Bill Murray as the only Duke head coaches with multiple bowl victories.

Given the circumstances, this win was especially poignant. 

"We were 4-6 a little over a month ago. Things had gone south," Cutcliffe explained. "How that happens is that they all care about each other that much. That was about being a great teammate. There was no star to take over. It was purely about being a great teammate. You see what you see in games. I see what they do in practice. Whether it was scout team performers, starters, whether it was defense, offense, or kicking game, I felt like these young men cared enough about each other to climb back and accomplish something like this."

Quarterback Daniel Jones, game MVP, was the catalyst for the 22-point win. He completed 27-of-40 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns, adding 86 yards rushing and another score. Jones finishes the year with 24 total touchdowns. Along with an aggressive defense, he helped the Blue Devils hold the football for over 38 minutes. 

Over the last three games, Jones completed nearly 64% of his passes, amassing 989 total yards and scoring nine touchdowns in that span. Duke averaged almost 37 points per game over its last three contests, going an impressive 3-0.  

"We kept fighting and we kept working during that stretch, and that’s what helped us finish strong and win the last three," Jones added. "And that’'s certainly an exciting way to finish, and it beats losing the last two."

Persistence to production, these Blue Devils never quit. Duke's final run of the 2017 season is one to remember. 

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports