Duke scores a wild 55-48 win over Virginia

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2010; 12:07 AM

DURHAM, N.C. - For all the eye-popping statistics that Virginia compiled, for all the school records claimed and the ones that lingered just out of reach, the Cavaliers were reminded once again Saturday that the gap between where they are and where they want to be remains vast.

Virginia tallied 643 yards, yet fell to Duke, 55-48, in large part because the Cavaliers defense ceded 489 yards to the Blue Devils. Never before in program history had Virginia (4-5, 1-4 ACC) scored so many points in a losing effort. The Cavaliers recorded more offensive yards than any other ACC team has in a single game this season, but it wasn't enough, not with a defense that was banged up and mostly ineffective.

In what became a competition to determine which defense could be less porous, Virginia came up short - but just barely. Duke (3-6, 1-4) and Virginia combined to amass 59 first downs, 1,132 yards and 103 points, the second-highest combined point tally in ACC history.

Virginia quarterback Marc Verica threw for a school-record 417 yards and four touchdowns and became the first passer in program history to throw for more than 400 yards in a game by frequently finding senior wide receiver Dontrelle Inman, who caught 10 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. Inman was two yards shy of breaking Ken Shelton's school record for most receiving yards in a game.

But Verica also tossed three interceptions that led directly to 17 Blue Devils points.

"You can't throw interceptions," Cavaliers Coach Mike London said. "It's great that he sets the school record for passing yards, but the scoreboard reads what it does."

It took 164 offensive plays to settle Saturday's shootout, though the game turned for good on two snaps late in the fourth quarter. On fourth and 20 from the Duke 21-yard line, Blue Devils quarterback Sean Renfree completed a 32-yard pass to Donovan Varner. Three plays later, Duke tailback Desmond Scott ran for a 35-yard touchdown to put the Blue Devils on top for good with 40 seconds left.

The build-up and execution of those two snaps defined the day for a Virginia squad that was charged with 11 penalties for 103 yards.

With just less than four minutes remaining and their team trailing by five, Virginia defensive end Cam Johnson and linebacker Steve Greer forced Scott to fumble at the Duke 27-yard line. With such a short field, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Cavaliers would score through the air, given how the rest of the game had transpired.

But after recovering the fumble, Virginia opted to keep the ball on the ground, where the Cavaliers registered 226 yards on the day. Tailback Keith Payne carried the ball on four straight plays and scored from six yards out to provide Virginia a one-point lead with two minutes 26 seconds left. Payne finished with 121 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He also recorded a nine-yard receiving touchdown in the second quarter.

Following Payne's fourth-quarter score, Duke began its drive at its 9-yard line. On third and six, Renfree completed an 18-yard pass to tight end Cooper Helfet to the Duke 31. Renfree finished with 219 yards and a touchdown.

Virginia lined up with five defensive backs frequently Saturday, but the Cavaliers were severely hampered without their top two cornerbacks. Senior Ras-I Dowling missed the game with a lingering right knee injury. Junior Chase Minnifield sprained his ankle in practice this week and had to leave the game during the first quarter.

Renfree was sacked on the two plays following the first down to Helfet. An incomplete pass led to fourth and 20. Virginia brought in six defensive backs for that play, and Renfree still found Varner for a 32-yard completion on a seam route up the middle.

"It's disheartening, and it's discouraging," London said. "One play gets you off the field and you can't capitalize on that."

On second and 10 from the Virginia 35, the Cavaliers got caught trying to make late defensive substitutions. Scott took the ball around the left end, ran down the sideline and dived over the pylon for the game-winning touchdown with 40 seconds left. Virginia was called for illegal participation on the play, but the penalty was declined.

"By the time we got out there, they were running the ball already," linebacker Darnell Carter said. "We were short about three or four players on the play."

Said London: "We're a ways away. We're a work in progress, as I keep saying. We've got to keep closing the gap, somehow, some way, so we can keep staying competitive in games, so these guys can feel good about themselves when they come back in the locker room on Saturdays."

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