Duke football grinds out gritty victory over Wake Forest despite injuries

Duke football head coach and defensive end DeWayne Carter (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke football head coach and defensive end DeWayne Carter (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

The Duke football team completed the walk-off win against Wake Forest. 

It never felt like Riley Leonard was close to being healthy last week as the Duke football team was blowout by the Louisville Cardinals and that was confirmed on Thursday afternoon when he was ruled out of the Blue Devils’ matchup against Wake Forest.

Leonard is dealing with a toe injury, which is not related to the high ankle sprain he suffered earlier in the season, and there is no timetable for his return this season.

Henry Belin IV, the backup quarterback, remained out with injury as Mike Elko turned to freshman Grayson Loftis to try and snap a two-game losing streak for Duke and keep its slim hopes alive for a berth in the ACC Championship Game.

Loftis had some early jitters, fumbling on his second drive of the game, but settled in nicely for the Blue Devils as Duke pulled out a gritty 24-21 victory on a last second 26-yard field goal from Todd Pelino.

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Duke’s (6-3, 3-2 ACC) defense did not put together its best effort for the second consecutive week but the unit kept the Blue Devils within striking distance and found its best form in the second half by forcing two major turnovers.

Wake Forest (4-5, 1-5 ACC), leading 21-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter, had the ball at their own 49-yard line when quarterback Mitch Griffis tried to scramble for the first down and was helicoptered out of the air by a trio of Duke defenders and fumbled the football.

Duke football defense rises to occasion when needed most

Grayson Loftis and the offense were not able to capitalize but the Demon Deacons would go 3-and-out on its next possession which allowed the Duke rookie quarterback to hit Jordan Moore for a 29-yard touchdown to tie the game.

The teams traded punts and Wake was looking to mount a lengthy drive to end the game and with 4:22 left Griffis’ pass from the Duke 40-yard line slipped out of his hands and into the arms of Ryan Smith for the interception and the Blue Devils would not give the football up.

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A defensive pass interference on 3rd and 13 kept the drive alive for Duke and another costly unnecessary roughness penalty put the Blue Devils inside the 15-yard line and all that was left to do was drain the remaining 42 seconds off the clock and kick the field goal.

Loftis finished an unimpressive 7-of-19 for 86 yards with a touchdown, interception, and fumble but never made the costly mistake in the second half to lose the game for the Blue Devils.

The running back tandem of Jordan Waters and Jaquez Moore both ran for 76 yards and a touchdown.

The victory makes the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the second consecutive year under Mike Elko, a feat that the program has not seen since the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Duke will have a couple extra days to get healthy for next Saturday’s (TBA, TBA) rivalry showdown in Chapel Hill against North Carolina (6-2, 3-2 ACC).

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