by Mike Potter
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Duke hasn't been in this position in quite some time.
If the Blue Devils can beat long-time Big Four rival Wake Forest on a cool, sunny afternoon in the Bull City, they'll be 6-6 and avoid a losing season for the first time since 1994.
But David Cutcliffe's club is going to have to break a jinx to do it, as Duke hasn't beaten the Deacons in the last nine meetings.
Neither team can go to a bowl - Duke because the win over N.C. Central doesn't count for bowl qualification and Wake (4-7) simply because it can't win six games.
The 'what ifs' are obvious, as Duke opened with an eight-point loss to visiting Division I-FCS power Richmond in a game the Blue Devils would just like to have back. The Deacons had TWO overtime losses, on the road at Boston College and Virginia Tech. That's probably why Wake is the favorite in Las Vegas, and the oddsmakers turn out to be right as Wake wins 45-34.
Duke has no trouble scoring on its first possession. It takes just three plays to go 58 yards, with Thaddeus Lewis (pictured) hitting Donovan Varner in stride for a 56-yard touchdown. Will Snyderwine adds the kick at 13:56.
But Wake's ensuing drive is almost a mirror image. The Deacons take four plays to go 53 yards, with Riley Skinner hitting Devon Brown in the end zone from 28 yards out. There is some controversy on the play, but upon further review officials determine that Brown was pushed out of bounds before entering the end zone for the catch. Jimmy Newman's kick makes it 7-7 at 12:21.
Back comes Duke, going 73 yards in three plays with a 62-yard pass from Lewis to Austin Kelly getting the touchdown. Snyderwine boots and it's 14-7 at 11:10.
The pattern continues, but not without help from the Duke special teams. Wake goes 74 yards in six plays, with the touchdown a 54-yard pass from Skinner to Chris Givens down the left sideline. The drive dies at the Deacons' 34 before a roughing-the-kicker penalty keeps the visitors in business. Newman converts at 7:21 and it's tied again.
The defenses wake up, and nobody scores again until almost midway through the second quarter. That comes when Skinner hits Brown from eight yards out to complete an eight-play, 55-yard march for the Deacons. Newman's kick makes it 21-14 with 10:50 left in the half.
Duke comes back with a field goal, with Snyderwine nailing his career long from 51 yards out at 5:21 to make it 21-17.
Wake opens up a margin in the middle of the third, when Skinner hits Josh Harris from 13 yards out to end a six-play, 64-yard drive. Newman's try makes it 28-17 at 9:46.
Snyderwine hits another field goal for Duke, this one from 33 yards, and the margin is back down to eight with 7:10 left in the third.
But Wake gets a long pass play to make it worse. Skinner hits Marshall Williams for a 49-yard pass completion, and Williams picks up his own fumble in the end zone. The kick makes it 35-20 at 5:51.
Lewis takes the Blue Devils 80 yards in nine plays, going in himself from a yard out with 9:45 left in the game. Snyderwine kicks and the margin is down to eight.
But the Deacons pretty much lock up the game with 4:30 left when Newman nails a 44-yard field goal.
Alex Frye returns an interception of a Lewis pass 37 yards for another Wake TD with 3:26 left before Duke salvages some pride with a 21-yard Lewis to Varner pass with 2:31 to go.
Senior Skinner finishes with the first five-touchdown passing day in Wake Forest history. Hard to believe, but true.
Senior Lewis becomes just the 60th quarterback in NCAA history to throw for over 10,000 yards in a career, and Varner has a career-best day with 11 catches for 174 yards and also passes the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season.
The teams combine for 954 yards total offense.
They said it ...
Duke coach Cutcliffe: "We just didn't execute. It's hard to say with that many yards of offense that you didn't execute. But if you were there watching the ball game like there at the end when we threw an interception for a touchdown, if we get it out of our hands earlier and get it to him we can make the first down and you don't know what's going to happen. ... We didn't have an answer, defensively, to stop them. They had two big double moves (by receivers) for scores. We got it to 28-20 and then they hit us with one big play. Wake Forest has 20-something seniors, and they did what they had to do to win the game."
Wake coach Jim Grobe: "I thought (our) defensive guys did a good job. Early on, we just didn't play very well. We went out for a couple of series and played poorly, gave up the real big play that you hate to give up. (But) the thing I was most proud of was how our defense settled down. We actually started to get off the field some; after those first couple of possessions I didn't know if we were going to find a way to get off the field."
Lewis: "Records are meant to be broken, so hopefully a great quarterback can come along after me and break them. I definitely feel that I left (the program) better than I found it. I came here as a young pup, and I have grown and matured into a man. What a great place, to come to Duke and become a better man on and off the football field. I'll get my degree here in December, so I feel that I've accomplished a lot."
Varner: "We're going to miss Thad. He's a great quarterback. On and off the field, we'll miss him. But our whole receiving corps is returning. With Sean Renfree and Sean Schroeder, I think we have a great chance to have another good year. We're going to work hard in the off-season to have a great chance next year."
What does it all mean?
That Duke is still headed in the right direction, but will have to develop more depth to avoid having a chance at a winning season disappear in November again. And that Wake Forest has beaten the Blue Devils an unlikely 10 times in a row.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Frye's interception return for the touchdown.
Duke leads 53-35-2.
Duke: Lost 4.
Wake Forest: Won 1.