The Duke Blue Devils dominated Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl to come away with a 36-14 victory and a winning season. Duke quarterback Daniel Jones was named MVP of the game accounting for 338 yards of total offense,
But it was the defense which set the tone for a victory and finishing the year with three consecutive wins. Duke had jumped out to a 14-0 lead and it looked as if the team had the game in the bag. But Northern Illinois would get two quick scores which tied the game up at 14-14.
You could not help but wonder at that time if Duke would regain momentum. After all, they had experienced a six game losing streak before gaining two ACC conference wins to close the season and propel them to a bowl.
The losing streak was as much mental as it was getting the job done on the field. But on this day, Duke showed that lessons were indeed learned. The team would shut out Northern Illinois the rest of the way.
Duke went up at the half on a wide open Jones to TJ Rahming touchdown pass and catch that went for 33 yards. After a botched extra point, Duke would toughen on defense and score again on a Jones to Shaun Wilson pass but a two point attempt failed.It w
Still, Duke took a solid lead of 26-14 into the locker room and the defense showed the ability to stop big plays. While not a clean first half, it was a substantial lead to work with.
The Huskies would never challenge again. Duke went into ball control mode in the second half and would shut out their opponent When the dust cleared, Duke had outscored Northern Illinois 22-0 since the game was tied including a 10-0 advantage in the final two quarters.
The Duke players celebrated by dousing head coach David Cutcliffe with Gatorade and then accepted the trophy which save the season. Duke had against all odds righted the ship late in the season and came away with a bowl win.
The program can now say that it has been to bowl games in five of the last six seasons. And there is suddenly momentum to work with in the off-season. While Duke will lose some key senior players who went out in style, they return a strong contingent of personnel.
The seniors were able to go out on a winning note, while the returning players will likely learn from the taste of defeat that was sandwiched in the middle of the year, Lessons will be learned and the players departing left getting Duke back on track with a bowl win.
Duke will begin spring practice at the end of March this coming year. That time has been pushed back from seasons past. Duke will return 7 starters on offense and 8 on the defensive side of the ball but will have to replace the punter and the kicker as well. Duke will open the season at home with Army.