Duke Football Preview: The Kicking Game


Oct 20, 2012; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils kicker Ross Martin (35) is congratulated by long snapper Jackson Anderson (78) after a made field goal against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the first half at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

I was a bit of a punk growing up. I dabbled, as most kids my age, in poker and gambled a good bit of my pocket money. I also occasionally bet on sports. This is a quick story on how the two intertwined for me and Duke football.

It was 2006 and the world was abuzz with hold ’em fever. Just a few short years after the poker boom landed with Chris Moneymaker and the “Bluff of the Century.” My friends and I gathered weekly to play a small $5 or $10 cash game or occasionally larger tournaments with the rest of the degenerates of Smithfield, NC.

This particular morning we were gathered at an acquaintance’s house to play a tournament. We started at noon, coincidentally the same time that Duke and Wake Forest kicked off their annual tilt of ACC door mats. I had more than a passing care in this game as Duke hadn’t beaten the Demon Deacons in seven years and I wanted a win from that game worse than any on the schedule.

I also had put a $500 bet on Duke to win straight up.

Which brings me to lesson #1 of being a Duke football fan, one that was hammered home by the Belk Bowl (although, I didn’t bet on that one): Never, ever, bet on Duke football.

Riley Skinner got his first career start in that game on his way to throwing for 10,000 yards. Ironically, Thad Lewis, one of the two other members of the 10K club, started his first game that day as well. Fun trivia question for the bar.

Duke owned the game. They just couldn’t get out of their own way. Twice they fumbled within the redzone and missed a field goal in the first half that took up residence in the back of my mind all game. As I sat there, admittedly doing well at cards, I played with one eye on the television and one on my hand. Going into the second half, both Duke and I were positioned to ultimately win out.

I had played a three-way hand as smoothly as I could. I checked meekly on the flop, smooth called the bets thereafter leading to a clash on the river. Jonathan had hit his straight, Sloan had hit three of a kind, and I had hit my Ace high flush. I tripled up in that hand, knocking Sloan out and taking the chip lead from Jonathan.

Likewise, Duke led 10-0 as the teams came out of the tunnel. It should have been more. Jomar Wright dropped a perfect deep ball from Lewis that would’ve gone for an easy touchdown on the first play, and Joe Surgan missed a 27-yard field goal to end that drive. Lewis fumbled away an option pitch to end a drive at the Wake Forest 15. A roughing-the-passer penalty by Michael Tauiliili negated an interception by Chris Davis and the ensuing 46-yard return. And Re’quan Boyette fumbled at the 1-yard line and into the end zone for a touch back.

Still, a lead was a lead and Duke should be thankful for any they could get. With time running down in the game, Duke clung to a 13-7 lead, and Wake was marching. Skinner couldn’t fail as he completed pass after pass, gutting the Duke secondary for 58 yards on the drive. Finally, Micah Andrews hammered the nail as he scored from two yards out and Wake led 14-13.

Of course, Thad Lewis is Thad Lewis. He led the Blue Devils back down the field, with the help of two pass interference calls and took Joe Surgan to the door step for a straight on, 28 yard field goal.

Alas, Surgans gotta Surgan.

Chip Vaughn, a substitute, blocked the kick as time expired and sent Duke home with their tenth straight loss.

In a flurry of moments, Lewis had led me to believe I was going to improbably cash in on my bet and experience the joy of a last second Duke win. Then Joe Surgan snatched it all away.  From that point on, I tilted like a tower in Pisa and lost every last chip within ten minutes, with a monumental chip lead.  This is why I will never bet on Duke football.  The Belk Bowl confirmed that when Duke was +9 and failed to cover despite having a tie game, the ball on the five yard line, and only a minute left in the game.  Cutcliffe has certainly exercised demons at Duke but some obviously remain. 

The spotty history of Duke special teams was chronicled in this piece by BJ Weeks a few weeks ago and touches on most everything I could in a preview. We know what we have in kickers for the Blue Devils this fall.

Ross Martin, the heralded sophomore, accomplished as much as one can in their first year. An honorable mention All-American by Sports Illustrated, Freshman AA by Sporting News, CBS, and Phil Steele, semifinalist for the Lou Groza award, set the single season Duke scoring record (besting Clarkston Hines), and set the ACC record for scoring by freshman kickers. So yeah, he’s decent.

Will Monday, ole Ironfoot, was a redshirt freshman last season. That didn’t slow him down either as he was a Freshman AA for Phil Steele and first team All-ACC selection. He led the ACC in punting average at 44.64 yards per kick, only the second freshman ever to do so. He also launched the most improbable (greatest?) punt of all-time in the Belk Bowl.