Team A scores a touchdown or kicks a field goal, so you, as Team B, have to answer that call with your own touchdown or even a key stop on the defensive end of the field. This basically goes on the entire game and ends when one team can’t answer the other teams scoring runs.
In Saturday’s Duke game with the Miami Hurricanes, the Blue Devils did an excellent job of answering each and every time Miami put up a score until in the fourth quarter Miami no longer had an answer for the Blue Devils.
Down 10-0 early in the first quarter, a score was imperative for the Blue Devils if they wanted to win this football game.
“You obviously always want to answer,” said quarterback Brandon Connette. “We know throughout the season any time we’ve been down, we’ve never given up. When we are down, no one on our team ever second guesses what’s going on, never has doubts at all. We’re a really good team when we’re playing from behind because we have a desire to go down and score every single time until we’re ahead. And once we get ahead, we want to stay ahead. It went back and forth a little bit and we just kept on grinding it out. And we ended up on top. Just the mentality of this team is unbelievable.”
So down 10-0, the Blue Devils drove the ball 75 yards, capping it off with a two-yard run by Connette and an answer to the Hurricanes.
But you’re not ranked among the top football teams in the country without knowing how to answer yourself and the Hurricanes answered with a 76-yard drive of their own, a five-yard touchdown pass and a 17-7 lead with 2:01 left in the first quarter.
It was time to make a stop on the defensive end of the field and an interception by Deondre Singelton at the 34 yard line may well have been the play of the game.
“You could say the momentum changed there,” said Miami head coach Al Golden. “It was unfortunate because we had a chance for a completion, and they got the ball with some good field position.”
Six plays later Connette found Shaquille Powell in the end zone and the Blue Devils were right back in this game, down just 17-14.
“If you become a team that is fighting for something and you’re preparing that way you don’t give in easily,” explained Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe. “When Miami did something well we found a way to answer it. We found it on the offensive end, the defensive end and in the kicking game. Everybody answered Miami’s big plays in a different way.”
Fast forward to what has become Duke’s favorite time of the game -- the fourth quarter. Nursing a one-point advantage at 31-30, the Blue Devils knew what they had to do to win this game.
“You can look at all the games we’ve played this year and a lot of them have been really close,” said Connette. “In quite a few of them we’ve been down in the fourth quarter. And just last week against NC State we were down in the fourth quarter. We put a drive together and scored and the defense made some good plays. This week in the fourth quarter, it was close … Just that back and forth, it’s something that we love because we love competition. We love the process of what’s happening here and playing and practicing. That shows up on the field any time it’s a close game. We love winning in the fourth quarter. We know we’re not always going to be able to win in the first, second, third quarter. The fourth quarter is where you’ve got to win ballgames and I can’t say enough about our play in the fourth quarter.”
So in the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils called on the one part of their game that has saved them all year – the running game.
A 56-yard run by Josh Snead, a 15-yard run by Jela Duncan and a 33-yard run on fourth-and-one by Powell all added up to a 45-30 lead over the Hurricanes with 6:50 left in the game.
“One thing we want to do better is run the ball,” said senior offensive guard Laken Tomlinson. “All summer long we worked on all inside zones and running inside zones back-to-back and getting a push on big linemen. We have great scout team players and just having those younger guys stepping up and having great practice tempo allows us to be able to run the ball better. It was obvious tonight that we’ve been working hard.”
While the interception in the first half may well have been the tempo setter, the run up the middle by Powell closed the door on the hopes of a victory by Miami.
“We ran a zone play and they blitzed,” explained Cutcliffe. “When you blitz – and our offensive front picked it up beautifully. We cut a gap off and if you leave one gap open there is nobody there and Shaq knew exactly what to do and I’m real proud of that play. I made that decision right there to go for it on fourth down. It was the right decision. We were playing to win the football game and I think our players responded to that.”
“This is a process,” explained Cutcliffe. “I think we have enough veterans in the right places. The way they practice and you practice over four or five years like this. Getting better as practice goes on is one of the principles I believe in strongly as a coach. You finish at the highest level that you can find. You do that and you do it every day for so long and this particular team bought into it quickly in spring practice. I really feel like this team understands what it takes to play four quarters. We have to continue that because to be quite frank with you we’re not good enough physically to not play that way. That’s what we have to do.”
As usual, Cutcliffe has a very simple way of handling all the different situations hitting the Blue Devil football team this season.
At the team meeting on Sunday, Cutcliffe was quick to praise the team on their ascension to a ranking of 24th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 25th in the Associated Press poll and to remind them how fleeting this ranking can be if they don’t remember how they obtained these wins.
“I reminded them it was a week to week situation with the polls,” explained Cutcliffe.
In other words, if they don’t play well on Saturday against Wake Forest, they won’t be ranked next Sunday.
“We still remain humble and know that we still have to come together as a team no matter what,” said sophomore safety Jeremy Cash. “We have to pick each other up and bend but don’t break … We believe in one another. Our coach harps on the fact that it’s a team sport and maybe one play may go wrong, but you’ve got to go to the next play and believe in your brothers that they are going to pick you up.”
Remember if you have any questions or comments about this column to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for taking the time to read these ramblings and have a safe and wonderful week.