Blue Devils' magic ride stopped cold by No. 1 Florida State
America’s top-ranked college football team was all it was billed to be for Cinderella story Duke Saturday night.
The unbeaten Seminoles broke free from a scoreless tussle in the second quarter and cruised past the No. 20 Blue Devils, 45-7, to win the ACC football championship in Bank of America Stadium.
“They’re the number one team in the nation,” said junior Braxton Deaver after his team's eight-game winning streak was snapped. “You expect unbelievable athletes. And they were that.”
Jameis Winston, the beleaguered freshman quarterback in the running for the Heisman Trophy, was named the game’s MVP.
“They have a lot of weapons and one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” said Duke freshman Breon Borders, who set a title game record with two interceptions. “They’re hard to stop. He’s an excellent quarterback.”
Duke (10-3) will learn its bowl destination Sunday. Florida State goes to the Rose Bowl for the national title game on Jan. 6.
The Blue Devils weren’t able to sustain any semblance of a running game, were thwarted with three-and-outs after each of Florida State’s first three touchdowns and never found a home run hitter on defense or special teams.
“That’s a very talented football team,” said senior Kenny Anunike. “We didn’t play to our standards. We didn’t play as well as we can on offense, we didn’t play as well as we can on defense and we didn’t play as well as we can on special teams. And that’s why they beat us.”
The Blue Devils’ ingredients to a record-setting season were more than contained by the Seminoles (13-0). After a scoreless first quarter, Florida State’s first of the season, the Seminoles scored on six of nine possessions stretching into the fourth quarter.
“Defensively, you’ve got to make plays,” said Duke senior Ross Cockrell. “We were physical and they were a physical team. We just didn’t sustain it.”
Florida State outgained Duke 569-239, including 239 rushing yards. The Seminoles, in tying Clemson for most ACC football titles (14), posted 31 first downs to Duke’s 15.
“The defense was on the field for a lot of plays,” Anunike said. “It’s tough to keep the intensity when you’re out there that long.”
The Blue Devils’ best threat for points before the rout came in the first quarter on a 15-play drive ending in a missed field goal attempt. Duke didn’t string together first downs again until the final five minutes of the third period.
By then, the Seminoles led 31-0, a chilled crowd of 67,694 was beginning to thin and the only question was if No. 2 Ohio State — the only other undefeated team — would rally past Michigan State. The Buckeyes didn’t.
“It was one of those things where you wanted to get points on the board,” said Duke quarterback Anthony Boone of the long first quarter drive. “We punched, and then they punched back. And they answered back.”
Winston had endured weeks of speculation about sexual criminal charges. He spent a relaxing Saturday night in the Queen City throwing for three touchdowns and running for a fourth. He threw for 330 yards, hitting 19 of 32 with two picks and a sack.
Duke avoided the shutout with Josh Snead’s short scoring run 61 seconds from the finish.
“I hope the importance of playing in this game is not about recruiting,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, the ACC and a national coach of the year award winner. “It’s about wanting to get back to it and wanting to win it. There’s a process involved in all of this, and there’s no atmosphere like conference championship atmosphere, and I’m glad they have experienced it.
“I hate the fact that it was experienced in such a manner where the loss hurt, but maybe that hurt propels you forward is what you have to hope.”
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.