Isaac Blakeney

No. 15 Arizona State overcomes furious Duke rally for Sun Bowl victory

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It was not pretty, but No. 15 Arizona State (10-3) found a way out of El Paso with a victory in the Hyundai Sun Bowl Saturday afternoon. To do so, the Sun Devils needed to respond to a nearly storybook ending by Duke (9-4), with the Blue Devils taking its first lead late in the fourth quarter, only to see Arizona State steal it right back and intercept a last-ditch effort in the end zone to seal the 36-31 victory for Arizona State.

Arizona State started to let the game slip out of their hands late in the first half, but the Sun Devils came out strong in the second half. Taylor Kelly completed a touchdown pass to Demario Richard inside the red zone early in the third quarter to regain a double-digit lead and Zane Gonzalez later padded that lead with a 47-yard field goal, his third field goal of the afternoon. Going to the fourth quarter, Arizona State led 30-17, but just as they did at the end of the first half, the Sun Devils were unable to close.

Duke scored twice in the fourth quarter to gain its first lead of the game with just over five minutes to play. Anthony Boone completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Johnell Barnes early in the fourth quarter. Duke pulled a trick put of the bag later in the fourth quarter when receiver Jamison Crowder tossed a touchdown pass to Isaac Blakeney to give the Blue Devils their first lead of the game, 31-30 following the point-after. The thrill of owning the lead was short-lived, because getting the first bowl victory since the 1960 season certainly not could come so easy for Duke.

Kalen Ballage returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to the Duke four-yard line, and it took Arizona State just one play to move across the goal line. Kelly flipped a pass to Richard for the four-yard score, and the lead. Arizona State was stuffed on a two-point conversion, which gave Duke a chance to take one more lead.

Boone hit a deep pass down the middle fo the field to Crowder, who earlier in the game returned a punt for a touchdown, as the Blue Devils pushed inside the red zone with time dwindling. With 45 seconds to play, Boone threw a fade pass to Crowder on the right side of the field, but it was picked off by Kweishi Brown of Arizona State.

For Duke, it was another tough pill to swallow in a season that has seen a handful of them. But this should not take away from the tremendous amount of growth the program has seen in the past few seasons under head coach David Cutcliffe. It has to sting coming so close to a bowl victory not once, but twice in the final five minutes.

Arizona State missed out on a chance to play for a Pac-12 championship this season, but the season ends on a high note for Todd Graham‘s program. Arizona State should be expected to be another strong contender in the Pac-12 in 2014 as well after back-to-back 10-win seasons.

No. 22 Duke keeps pace atop ACC Coastal with road win at Syracuse

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Brace yourselves folks. No. 22 Duke (8-1, 4-1 ACC) is closing in on a possible return trip to the ACC Championship Game. The Blue Devils took to the road for the final time this season and made sure to return with another win. This time the victim was Syracuse (3-7, 1-5 ACC) with a 27-10 victory. Duke and Syracuse were neck and neck for a while, but Duke pulled away for the win in the fourth quarter with a 17-0 edge on the scoreboard in the final quarter of play.

Jamison Crowder, normally one to make things happen in the passing game at wide receiver, made a game-changing play on special teams early in the fourth quarter. A 52-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter broke a 10-10 tie, and Duke’s defense never allowed Syracuse to get on the scoreboard. While the defense did its job to protect the lead, it was the Duke offense taking care of business padding it. Anthony Boone‘s 54-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Blakeney gave Duke a 27-10 advantage midway through the fourth quarter. It was the second time Boone had hooked up with Blakeney on the afternoon for a touchdown. The two had a 22-yard scoring connection in the second quarter.

This was hardly a perfect game for Duke though. Boone completed fewer than half of his 33 pass attempts and the Blue Devils converted eight of 19 third-down attempts for a first down. Duke’s running game averaged 3.0 yards per rushing attempt and it was kept out of the end zone. David Cutcliffe will have a few things he can work on with his team heading into the final stretch, which should help keep the team focused as well.

The win helps Duke stay ahead of Georgia Tech in the ACC Coastal Division. Duke won an earlier game against Georgia Tech, but can ensure they do not need to rely on tiebreakers if they can finish strong. Duke will get three final games all at home with a chance to protect the division lead. Winners of four straight now since losing at Miami, Duke will wrap up the regular season at home against Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest. Winning two of three could likely be enough to grab the division crown, depending on what else happens around the division.

While Duke is flying high atop the ACC Coastal Division, Syracuse stumbled for the seventh time this season. With seven losses, Syracuse is now officially eliminated from postseason contention this season. Syracuse still has two more games to play. Both will come on the road, first against Pittsburgh in two weeks and then at Boston College to wrap up the season.

Duke doing just enough to stay ahead of Syracuse

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Anthony Boone completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Blakeney in the second quarter to give Duke a 10-3 lead at Syracuse. In a fairly even game between ACC schools, Duke holds the seven-point lead at the half in the dome.The teams exchanged field goals in the first quarter.

The teams exchanged field goals in the first quarter, and neither offense has been too pretty this afternoon. Duke owns a slight edge in total offense with 132 yards to Syracuse’s 131 yards, but Syracuse also has one turnover and one more penalty than Duke. Boone has completed 9-of-17 of his attempts for 79 yards. Jamison Crowder has caught five of those passes for 33 yards. Syracuse running back Prince-Tyson Gulley leads the Orange with 33 rushing yards.

Duke is looking to keep pace as the leader in the ACC Coastal Division. This is not a division game, but Duke needs a win to guarantee a stay in first place by themselves at the end of this week. Duke has won three straight ACC games and owns a head-to-head tiebreaker with Georgia Tech (playing NC State at the same time this afternoon). A win here helps Duke set up a potential finish that ends with a second straight division title with three home games after this week to close out the regular season.