This isn't fair. Duke football didn't deserve what happened to it in the Belk Bowl.
This is the heartbreaking story of the college football season, or of many seasons. Duke went from being at the 5-yard line with about a minute-and-a-half left, looking for its first bowl win since the 1961 season, to losing the Belk Bowl 48-34 to Cincinnati in regulation.
This loss was horrible and unbelievable, especially for Duke running back Josh Snead.
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In its media notes for the bowl game, Duke printed a stat: In 649 career touches for Duke's five running backs, they had lost just four fumbles. Snead, a sophomore who is part of a three-man committee in a rotation, had lost just one fumble in 155 career touches.
Duke was at Cincinnati's 5-yard line with less than two minutes to go. The Blue Devils had second down, and were going to run up the middle two more times - either for a touchdown, or they'd settle for an easy field goal. Either way, they were going to lead a bowl game in the final minutes, which is almost unheard of for Duke football.
Jan. 2, 1962 was the last time Duke football won a bowl game, a 7-6 win over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. It appeared in only two bowl games between that Cotton Bowl win and the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati. Duke's last appearance came in 1994. It had blown an early 16-0 lead to the Bearcats, but valiantly fought back after falling behind 27-16. As Duke handed to sure-handed Snead, the score was tied and a win seemed imminent. Then Snead fumbled, and Cincinnati recovered. Even a long-suffering Duke football fan couldn't have imagined that nightmare.
Snead was inconsolable on the sideline. It's hard to imagine what he's going through. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, when Snead spoke to the media after the game he said his fumble will only make him stronger, which reveals a lot about his character. Actually, coming out to speak to the media at all reveals a lot about him.
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The rest of the game after the fumble was a blur. A Blue Devils cornerback gave inside release to Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce, expecting safety help that never came. Kelce scored an 83-yard touchdown. Then Duke quarterback Sean Renfree was hit hard, his pass popped up in the air, was intercepted and returned 55 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, it was over. Sudden doesn't begin to describe Duke's loss. This was indescribable for one of the sad-sack programs in major college sports.
Duke made many mistakes. It had a fumble at the goal line by another sure-handed back, Jela Duncan, at the 1-yard line in the first half. There was a dropped touchdown pass before that. There was also an odd situation in which a field goal was called off just before the half when Cincinnati took an illegal substitution penalty, and Duke missed from 5 yards closer on the re-kick as the second quarter expired.
It was an evening of ups and downs and ultimately the lowest of lows for Duke players, coaches and fans, and especially hard considering it was like a home game in Charlotte. With less than two minutes to go, Duke was in a position to win a bowl game, which would have been one of the great stories of the 2012 college football season. The Blue Devils somehow lost.
Hopefully Duke football makes it back to a bowl game soon. The loss was cruel. Duke needs to erase the memory of it before another half century passes.
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