With just over a minute remaining in the game it looked like Duke was poised to go ahead and win its first bowl game since the 1961 Cotton Bowl; then Duke Football reared its ugly head yet again.
Running back Josh Snead fumbled the ball at the goal line, the second such fumble of the game for Duke and Cincinnati exploited a Duke defense that has been the teams weakness all season long. The Bearcats would finish Duke off 48-34 in a high scoring but error filled game.
The Blue Devils came out in their first bowl game in nearly 20 years and looked like they had been holding out their best football for this one game, that lasted about a quarter.
The game turned late in the second quarter when Cincinnati woke up and starting finding their footing after a sluggish start. In a game that began to eerily resemble the Duke-Virginia Tech game from earlier this season, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 16-0 lead but then gave up 27 unanswered points and trailed going into half time in a game they could very easily have been winning by 20 or more points.
The errors began piling up for Duke and while it took Cincinnati a while to capitalize, they were finally able to do so and in a big way. Juwan Thompson dropped a sure touchdown, Jela Duncan fumbled the ball on the one yard line and the Blue Devils failed to convert on a forth and one and that gave the Bearcats great field position.
The mistakes and misfortune would only continued to pile up. The second half saw the Bearcats take the opening kick down the field and get a field goal making it 20 unanswered points that the Blue Devils defense had given up. Sean Renfree then proceeded to throw a terrible pass into double coverage on Duke’s first drive of the half and it appeared it was all headed down hill from there.
Duke, however, would respond. Duke used a strong end to the third quarter and a solid start to the fourth to regain the lead on the Bearcats but in the end it was the mistakes that cost the Blue Devils in the end.
The Snead fumble set up Cincinnati’s offense with little time but Bearcats quarterback Brendon Kay hit tightend Travis Kelce for what would be the game winning touchdown. Duke would get the ball back with just over 40 seconds left but Renfree took a fierce hit and his pass was tipped and intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
It was a game and a series of plays that have epitomized Duke Football for the better part of half a century. The loss is a tough pill to swallow but the fact that Duke made it to a bowl game at all is a positive.
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