The Belk Bowl started out SO well for the Duke football team, as they quickly jumped out to a 16-0 lead. However, they made some mistakes and had trouble tackling in the open field. That led to a 48-34 loss to Cincinnati.
At the end of the first quarter, Duke led 16-3 and it looked as though they might blow the Bearcats out. It also looked as though they might pick up their first bowl victory since 1961. They scored on a rushing touchdown, a field goal, and a blocked punt. So their running game was working, as was their defense.
But fans should have seen the bad omen from the beginning when Ross Martin missed his first extra point of his career (and the season) on Duke’s first scoring drive (which was their first possession).
Then the Blue Devils did not score in the second quarter. They were hurt by Jela Duncan‘s fumble on the 1/2 yard line. Cincinnati went on to score two straight touchdowns on passes from quarterback Brendon Kay of 22 yards and 41 yards.
The first half came to an end in interesting fashion. Martin nailed a 53 yard field goal which would have given Duke the lead at halftime. However, Cincinnati was penalized prior to the snap and Martin‘s 48 yard FG was no good.
The Bearcats continued to take advantage in the second half of Duke’s failure to tackle in the open field. That is something that dogged the Duke defense all season long. On third and 12 in the Bearcats’ first drive of the second half, Kay hit Anthony McClung for 55 yards (which led to a field goal).
After Duke quarterback Sean Renfree was intercepted, Cincinnati tacked on more points. On their second play of the drive, George Winn rushed for a 46 yard touchdown to give the Bearcats a 27-16 lead.
But then Duke came back. Renfree connected with Conner Vernon for a 10 yard TD pass and found a wide open Isaac Blakeney in the corner for the two-point conversion to cut their deficit to 27-24.
The fourth quarter started with Duke taking a 31-27 short-lived lead on Brandon Connette‘s two yard TD pass. I mentioned it was short-lived, as Cincinnati scored a touchdown less than two minutes later.
Duke Coach Cutcliffe went to his freshman kicker Martin with the game on the line and 7:24 to go in the game. It paid off, as Martin connected on a 52 yard FG to tie the game at 34-34. That was a Belk Bowl record.
Duke got the ball with 5:17 to go and moved down the field. They got inside the ten yard line when Josh Snead fumbled and the Bearcats recovered once again. This proved to be the most costly mistake as four plays later, Kay connected with tight end Travis Kelce for an 83 yard TD pass to give the Bearcats the lead with 48 seconds left.
Renfree‘s season and Duke career came to an end two plays later, as he was intercepted by Nick Temple, who ran it 55 yards for the TD. Renfree was blind sided by a late blitze and was hit as he was throwing the football.
In the end, Renfree reached the 3,000 yard mark in his career, as he collected 358 yards in the Belk Bowl (37-of-49). Nine Blue Devils caught at least one pass. Vernon‘s career also came to an end, as he caught ten passes for 119 yards and a touchdown.
I mentioned earlier that Duke was successful running the football. That was true, as they finished with 200 yards rushing. However, they also had two costly fumbles inside the ten yard line. Snead finished with 107 yards on 17 carries.
Kay, who was rewarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA for next season, went 17-of-25 for 332 yards and a Belk Bowl record four TD passes. Winn finished the game with 16 carries for 130 yards. Kelce, who is the Bearcats leading receiver but wasn’t heard from much in the first half, finished the game with five receptions for 123 yards (granted 83 of those yards came on one play).
*It was great to see the injured Blair Holliday on the sideline for the bowl game. The announcers were talking about how he hopes to be back in classes in January a Duke.
He was in a jet ski accident with fellow wide receiver Jamison Crowder on July 4th and is lucky to be alive. Granted, he has been back on the sidelines since September, but it was the first time I saw him (and Duke isn’t on national TV very often).
For more on Holliday and his story, click HERE.