EL PASO - For the third straight season, the Blue Devils played a thrilling bowl game. For the third straight season, they came up short. On Saturday afternoon, Arizona State emerged with the 2014 Sun Bowl victory, 36-31.
After falling in an early 20-3 deficit, Duke battled all the way back to take a 31-30 4th quarter lead on a half-back pass from senior Jamison Crowder to Issac Blakeney with 5:03 left to play. But it was not to be, as the ensuing kickoff was returned 96 yards by Kalen Ballage to the Duke 4-yard line. The Sun Devils' Taylor Kelly then quickly found Demario Richard for the 4-yard touchdown to put ASU on top for good. Anthony Boone led the Blue Devils back down the field on a 9-play, 57 yard drive, but the decisive play landed in the arms of ASU DB Kweishi Brown instead of Duke's Crowder in the back of the end zone.
The heartbreaking loss overshadowed a number of outstanding individual plays by the Blue Devils. Crowder finished the day with 7 catches and 102 yards, tying fellow Blue Devil Conner Vernon for the all-time ACC receptions record. With Duke trailing 20-10 late in the first half, the senior All-American also returned a punt for a 68-yard touchdown. The Duke ground game was paced all day by another inspired performance from Shaquille Powell, who finished with 29 carries and 118 yards, while adding 3 catches for 52 yards and a touchdown. DeVon Edwards led the Duke defense with 14 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. Seniors Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Jamal Bruce each added a sack of ASU's Taylor Kelly in their final games as Blue Devils. AJ Wolf may have had the defensive play of the day for Duke, as he blew up a 4th and inches try with 9:22 left and the Blue Devils down a touchdown. A fake punt by Will Monday found Johnell Barnes for a 30-yard gain, keeping the Duke drive alive as they trailed by a touchdown mid-way through the 4th quarter.
The Duke offense outgained the Sun Devils, 400 to 392, on the day, but lost the turnover margin 2-0; that proved to be the difference in an otherwise well-played game by both teams. A costly fumble by senior WR Issac Blakeney and Boone's late interception both came in the red zone, with the Blue Devils threatening to score. Jim Knowles' defense managed to hold Kelly and his offense to just 4 of 14 on 3rd down, and though they gave up over 100 yards to star WR Jaelen Strong, they kept him out of the end zone.
The loss drops Duke to 9-4 on the 2014 season, and still in search of their first bowl victory since 1961. The Sun Bowl marks the end of an era of sorts for the Blue Devils, as an incredible group of seniors moves on from Durham. Led by the likes of Boone, Crowder, Blakeney, and All-American OL Laken Tomlinson, this group accomplished the most successful 2-year campaign in Duke Football history. Their accomplishments should and will be celebrated at the annual football banquet on January 23, 2015.