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October 7, 2006

Duke scares Bama, falls late

Tuscaloosa, AL-A week after being embarrassed against Virginia last Saturday, Duke had SEC power Alabama on the ropes before a late Crimson Tide flurry clinched a 30-14 Alabama victory.

The Blue Devils more than doubled their season's scoring output in the first half, as they took a 14-10 lead to the locker room in front of a stunned crowd inside Tuscaloosa's Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Alabama opened the game with a lengthy drive but Duke's defense stiffened in the red zone to hold the Crimson Tide to a field goal.

From that point, Duke controlled the game the remainder of the first half, but a goal line fumble dampened what might have been an even better half.

The Blue Devils moved quickly down the field on their second offensive series only to see their efforts wasted when Aaron Fryer lost a fumble into the end zone in an attempt to dive in for Duke's first touchdown.

With the defense playing well, Duke got another chance to take the lead and capitalized on a second opportunity when the Devils forced a quick three-and-out to help the offense get starting field position at the Alabama 39 yard line.

Duke running back Requan Boyette helped revive a stagnant Blue Devil ground attack with 97 yards on just nine carries, and 16 of those yards moved the Blue Devils inside the five yard line for the second time.

After a motion penalty pushed the ball back five yards, Thaddeus Lewis hit wide receiver Eron Riley on a nine yard crossing route to put Duke up 7-3.

A key turning point the game came on Alabama's ensuing possession. With Alabama facing a third down and 19 deep in its own territory, quarterback John Parker Wilson completed a harmless two yard pass to tailback Kenneth Darby.

However, Duke's Greg Akinbiyi drew a flag for a personal foul late hit, which gave the Crimson Tide an automatic first down and provided a springboard for 'Bama's first touchdown.

A 26-yard pass and a 41-yard pass quickly moved Alabama down the field, and the Crimson Tide scored on third and goal when Duke cornerback John Talley left his man when it looked like Wilson was going to tuck the football and run to the right side.

Wilson stopped and lobbed a touchdown pass back across the field to a wide open DJ Hall to put 'Bama back on top 10-7.

Duke's first half offense was not what most Blue Devil fans have come to expect this season though. Another long run by Boyette and a 35-yard connection between Lewis and Riley almost immediately put Duke back in scoring position.

Another procedure penalty pushed Duke back to the six yard line, but Lewis found a seam on third and goal and dashed in to the end zone to give Duke its 14-10 halftime margin.

Turnovers and a big missed scoring opportunity halted the upset bid in the second half.

Lewis was intercepted on the first series of the half, setting Alabama up with great field position to recapture the lead when Wilson hit Keith Brown for a nine yard scoring strike.

Duke defensive tackle Casey Camero blocked the extra point to swing a bit of momentum back to Duke, and when John Talley intercepted a deflected pass on Alabama's next series and returned it 28 yards to the Crimson Tide 15 yard line, the Devils were presented with their last great chance to put Alabama in a late second half deficit.

Duke couldn't move the ball though and kicker Joe Surgan's 31-yard field goal try sailed wide right with 2:34 left in the third quarter.

The Blue Devils had two additional offensive series to try to overcome the 16-14 deficit but couldn't mount a drive into Alabama territory.

With time running out late in the fourth quarter, Alabama provided the knockout punch when the Crimson Tide used eight straight running plays against a drained Duke defense to punch in a touchdown with 4:08 remaining.

The 23-14 deficit forced Duke to be extra aggressive on offense needing two scores, and the Alabama defense seized on that when Lionel Mitchell intercepted Lewis and raced 50 yards to the end zone to make the final margin 30-14.

Everybody that walked out of Bryant-Denny Stadium knew the Crimson Tide had escaped a major scare though.

The Blue Devils rushed the ball for 201 yards, by far a season high. Linebacker Codey Lowe led a very stout Duke defense with a pair of sacks and an additional tackle for loss.

Jeramy Edwards led the defense with a 10 tackle performance.

Offensively, Clifford Harris also stepped up in the Duke running game. He carried five times for 30 yards and took two snaps at quarterback, one by design and one by necessity.

Lewis briefly left the game after getting banged up on a scramble, and with backup quarterback Marcus Jones wearing his wide receiver equipment, there was no time get Jones' pads changed and onto the field.

Harris took one snap and Jones came in to take an additional snap before Lewis returned to the action.

Riley's two catches, 44 yards and a touchdown easily paced Duke's receivers. Jomar Wright was the only other Duke receiver to make two catches.


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