In a game that sportswriter Grantland Rice called, “one of the greatest thrillers of all time,” the Blue Devils were forced to come from behind twice in the Sugar Bowl.
Despite its 5-4 record, Duke again was cast in the favorite’s role. After a 61-7 crunching of Richmond in the season opener, Duke lost in succession to Pennsylvania, North Carolina Pre-Flight, Navy and Army. The Blue Devils had gained much prestige with their showings against the service academies and was the only team to hold a lead on Army all season.
Duke’s explosive offense, nicknamed the “Whiz Kids” for its speed and wide-open style of play, was led by running backs Tom Davis and George Clark as Davis picked up 101 yards on 27 carries and Clark 123 on 14 with each adding two touchdowns.
As expected, Duke head coach Eddie Cameron’s charges started the game with a flurry, scoring the first touchdown just 2:25 into the contest. It took only five plays for the Blue Devils to cross the goal line. Clark returned the opening kickoff and then ran around left end on the first play for a gain of 52 yards. Three plays later, Clark scrambled for the touchdown with a PAT success from Harold Raether.
Alabama, led by quarterback Harry Gilmer, who completed all eight of his passes for 142 yards, came back with three straight scores for a 19-7 lead.
It was now time for a Duke comeback, and Cameron decided to try the passing attack. He installed Cliff Lewis and he promptly engineered a 63-yard scoring drive. Lewis pitched once to Raether for 13 yards, then to Gordon Carver for 15. Next, Lewis ran around the right side for 26 yards to the 2-yard line. Davis scored the touchdown and made it a 19-13 halftime deficit.
Duke returned to its more traditional power tactics after the break with the Davis carrying the ball on 11 of the 12 plays of the first drive of the second half. He capped the 64-yard drive with a one-yard scoring plunge, putting Duke back ahead 20-19.
The Blue Devils started a fourth quarter drive at the Tide 30-yard line when Lewis, looking to pass to Carver, threw wildly and was intercepted by Alabama’s Hugh Morrow who ran it back 78 yards for a score. Then he hit the extra point to make it 26-20.
Alabama took possession with just under three minutes to play and elected to take a safety on first down to avoid any gambles on a bad pass from center. The result was disastrous as Clark took the ensuing free kick and brought it all the way back to the Alabama 39.
LaRue followed with a 19-yard gain on a reverse to set the stage for a dramatic, game-winning 20-yard run by Clark for the 29-26 final score. The score was not ultimately settled until the final play when Carver pulled down an Alabama receiver on the 24-yard line as the clock expired.
The Duke offense rolled up 336 yards on the ground while the Blue Devil defensive unit limited the Crimson Tide to just 249 yards of total offense.