Duke rallies to stun Virginia, 35-22
Brandon Connette heard the play call, and knew it would work.
Duke's backup quarterback and designated fourth-down runner took the snap on fourth-and-1, faked a handoff, saw Virginia defenders converging on him and flipped the ball a few yards ahead to tight end Braxton Deaver, and Deaver did the rest, scrambling 47 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
"It was a great play call," said Connette, who twice had converted fourth-and-1 plays earlier in the second half by running the ball. "We just knew that they weren't paying attention to anyone on the field but me in those situations, so we took advantage."
Deaver's touchdown completed the Blue Devils' comeback from a 22-0 deficit, and they rolled to a 35-22 victory against Virginia on Saturday night.
Anthony Boone threw two touchdown passes and Connette also ran for a score as Duke beat Virginia for the fifth time in the last six meetings.
The Blue Devils (5-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) converted four fourth-down plays in the second half, and their defense held Virginia to five straight three-and-outs as they converted a 22-7 halftime deficit into a 25-22 lead with 11:44 remaining on Deaver's big play.
"I caught the ball and there was nobody in front of me," Deaver said.
The loss was the fourth in a row for Virginia (2-5, 0-3), which gained just 7 yards in the third quarter and 83 yards in the second half, negating a fast start that made it seem like it would finally snap its losing streak.
Kevin Parks ran for two TDs and caught a scoring pass for Virginia, but it all came in the first half.
"Whatever happened happened, and it got ugly fast," center Luke Bowanko said. "We're not proud of the product we put out there."
Three plays before the Connette-to-Beaver touchdown Anthony Harris dropped a sure interception for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers tried to rally, but even a huge break wasn't enough. On a third-and-18 play from their 27, Watford's pass for Darius Jennings sailed high and off the chest of defender Kelby Brown. The ball bounced high in the air, and Kevin Parks pulled it in for the most improbable 48-yard reception.
Two runs by Parks gained another 25 yards, but facing fourth-and-5 from the Duke 22, Virginia sent Alec Vozenilek in to try a 39-yard field goal. It was good, but was negated by a false start penalty against right guard Jay Whitmire, and when Vozenilek tried from 44 yards, his kick sailed wide left.
Deaver later caught a 24-yard scoring pass from Boone, and Ross Martin added a late 32-yard field goal.
Virginia was rolling early in what many saw as a must-win game. The Cavaliers outgained Duke 175-45 in the first quarter, opening a 14-0 lead, and made it 22-0 with 5:49 remaining in the first half when Parks pinned a 13-yard pass from David Watford against his leg, pulled it in and flipped into the end zone.
But an exchange of punts set Duke up at its 38 late in the half. Boone had completions of 14 yards to Brandon Braxton and 25 yards to Deaver. That took it to the Virginia 19, and four plays later, Boone rolled right under pressure and hit Jamison Crowder between defenders for the TD with 0:46 remaining in the half.
"It was huge" Deaver said. "It was a turn of emotion, a wave of confidence for us. It was one of the things that got us going."
In the second half, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe got bold fast, sending Connette in to convert a fourth-and-1 from the Duke 39 on the opening series. The drive ended with Martin's 25-yard field goal, making it 22-10, but the message it sent to the Blue Devils helped keep the tide turning their way.
"Coach Cut's like that," Deaver said. "He's got that put your foot on their throat mentality."
After another three-and-out by Virginia, Boone hit Crowder for 42 yards to the Cavaliers' 11, Jela Duncan ran for 5 yards and Connette took it the final 6, making it 22-17 and quieting the crowd of 38,071.
The Cavaliers seemed to get a spark when Darius Jennings returned the ensuing kickoff to the 25 and a Duke player drew a personal foul for hitting him out of bounds, but Watford's first pass was incomplete, and the snap on the next play skipped past him for a 15-yard loss. An offensive holding penalty suddenly found the Cavaliers facing third-and-35 from their 15, and when Virginia punted, Duke drove for the go-ahead score.
The Cavaliers brought out all stops on their opening drive. Watford hit Keeon Johnson for 25 yards on the first play, and when the drive stalled at the Duke 49, Vozenilek, who is also the punter, ran for 10 yards and a first down. Parks added a 13-yard reception, a 12-yard run and then ran it in from the 1 yard-line.
Late in the quarter, Watford hit Tim Smith for 51 yards to the Blue Devils' 5, and three plays later, Parks took it in from the 1 again.