Fighting To The Bitter End

The Blue Devils' football season will conclude this weekend without a postseason berth.

If the notion that the Blue Devils don't have anything to play for exists, it sure isn't showing up on the field.

The Blue Devils are out of bowl contention, but they pushed Georgia Tech to the brink in a 38-31 loss in the home finale. Twice in the fourth quarter, Duke scored touchdowns to pull within seven points of the Yellow Jackets.

"That is one thing that Coach (David Cutcliffe) tried to instill in us," defensive tackle Charlie Hatcher said of the team's ability to push forward even in tough times.

Duke outscored Georgia Tech 17-10 in the second half, so that meant Georgia Tech's touchdown on the final play of the first half became that much more crucial.

"It's the code our program lives by," tight end Cooper Helfet said. "... It is the mentality I came into. ... We keep working hard. If things don't go our way, we still work hard."

They haven't gone Duke's way recently, with a six-game losing streak looming large going into the season finale at rival North Carolina.


NOTES, QUOTES
--Eighteen players were listed on Duke's injury report in some capacity prior to the Georgia Tech game. Among the notables on that list was LB Kelby Brown, who missed his second game in a row. Last year, he was injured against Georgia Tech and that resulted in season-ending surgery.

--Duke went 5-for-5 in terms of scoring when it reached the red zone against Georgia Tech. That production helped it to a 31-point total, matching its most in a game since a 31-27 victory against Florida International on Oct. 1.

KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Brandon Braxton -- He was pegged as the third receiver coming into the season and with the Blue Devils' deep group of receivers it was possible he could emerge as a key play-maker if defenses focused in other areas. He has had some clutch games, with his 54 receiving yards against Georgia Tech ranking as the second-most on the team, picking up most of those on a 41-yard play that was Duke's biggest play from scrimmage in the game.

LOOKING GOOD: S Walt Canty logged a team-best 12 tackles in the game against Georgia Tech, helping take some of the workload off S Matt Daniels. Canty is sometimes overshadowed by Daniels' good deeds in the defensive backfield.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The defensive line faced one of its biggest challenges of the season against Georgia Tech's run-based offense. The Yellow Jackets finished with 549 yards of total offense, so that stings the Blue Devils. There was an earlier silver lining because Duke's defense forced three-and-outs on Georgia Tech's first two possessions, the only time the Blue Devils have done that to an opponent this year.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was glad to have him here. He congratulated me. It meant the world to me because he was a great player and a legend." -- WR Donovan Varner on former Duke standout Clarkston Hines attending the game against Georgia Tech. In Duke's previous game, Varner broke Hines' school record for the number of career receptions.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES:
--QB Sean Renfree tied his career-best mark with four touchdown passes against Georgia Tech. It was only his third game this season with more than one touchdown pass. The junior has 30 career touchdown passes.

--LB David Helton, a freshman thrust into a larger role because of injuries, notched nine tackles against Georgia Tech. That was the second-highest total on the team.

--WR Donovan Varner became the school's all-time reception leader in a Nov. 12 game at Virginia. He followed that with five more catches in the final home game of his career at Wallace Wade Stadium. Among those receptions was a 12-yard touchdown catch. He also posted a career-high 39-yard rushing play.

ROSTER REPORT
--QB Sean Renfree was slow to get up after several hits in the game against Georgia Tech. He has been ailing for several weeks and his body language tends to confirm that.

--DE Dezmond Johnson, a redshirt freshman, made first career start. He was credited with three tackles in the game against Georgia Tech.

--TE Cooper Helfet, who has fluctuated during the season as being a key target in the passing offense, re-emerged against Georgia Tech and made two touchdown receptions.


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