DURHAM, N.C. – A botched point-after kick is one of the most incompetent mistakes in football. They are the epitome of routine plays for a championship team.
Duke wasted two such points in wet conditions in a week ago, but the place-kicking unit turned the glaring miscues into a good thing.
First of all, the lost points weren’t missed in the Blue Devils’34-20 win on Sept. 26 over Georgia Tech at Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Secondly, place-kicker Ross Martin, holder/punter Will Monday and long-snapper Thomas Hennessey practiced with focus to correct the mistakes and their effort ultimately helped Duke beat Boston College 9-7 in wet conditions on the same turf.
Although Duke failed to score a touchdown against Boston College to set up a PAT, Martin, Monday and Hennessey were a perfect 3-of-3 on field goals. The third one was a 53-yarder into the wind for a 9-0 lead that turned out to be the game-winning points.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said the attention to details in wet conditions helped.
“I think it did,” said Cutcliffe on his Sunday night teleconference call. “Those guys worked all week and were determined. We made a little adjustment with our snap that we felt good about, and we had a lot of wet weather work. They are conscientious young men, Thomas, Will and Ross. I thought it was a great week of work. The lesson learned is to expect the unexpected. I thought it paid off.”
Two weeks after a discouraging 19-10 loss to Northwestern, Duke finds itself with a two-game winning streak in ACC play to stand 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the ACC Coastal.
Preseason Coastal favorites Georgia Tech (2-3, 0-2 Coastal) and Virginia Tech (2-3, 0-1) are both struggling.
Three other Coastal teams without a loss are North Carolina (4-1, 1-0), Pitt (3-1, 1-0) and Miami (3-1, 0-0)
The Blue Devils also are gaining national attention. They received 31 votes among “others” in this week’s AP writers Top 25 to equal No. 27. The Blue Devils also equal No. 27 in the USA Today coaches poll with 59 points.
With each week, Duke has gained credibility from its loss to Northwestern. The Wildcats (5-0) remain unbeaten and have climbed to No. 13 in the AP.
Also, Stanford’s play since losing its opener 16-6 to Northwestern has added significance. The Cardinal has won four straight to return to the rankings at No. 16. Stanford beat No. 17 USC 41-31 and previously ranked Arizona 55-17.
Duke was leading Northwestern 7-3 at halftime and left points on the field in the second half.
Cutcliffe was pleased with how his team responded after the Northwestern loss with the win over Georgia Tch. As for the botched PATs, he blamed wet conditions. Cutcliffe, upon studying the field, felt his players rushed more than necessary. He reminded them the defense also is playing in wet conditions and is a split second slower getting off the snap in slick conditions.
With Hurricane Joaquim whipping up conditions off the Atlantic coast, the Blue Devils didn’t have to worry about simulating conditions before Boston College.
“I think were in our 12th day in a row of rain and significant wind at times,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s not easy but it’s out there. I think our quarterback (Thomas Sirk) and kicking team have done a good job of managing a wet ball.”
It didn’t look like against Georgia Tech, but Duke has one of the top kicking units in the nation.
Martin has scored 342 points in his career to rank sixth all-time in the ACC. His consecutive streak of124 PATs is still active since the failed points against Georgia Tech had to do with the snap and placement without a kick attempted.
“I can’t go further without mentioning Ross Martin and the job he did,” Cutcliffe said in his opening remarks Sunday. “That 53 yarder against the wind was about as good as it gets.”