Blue Devils grind it out: How Duke football came from behind to upend Wake Forest

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Playing without starting quarterback Riley Leonard, Duke’s offense found a way to score 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to bring the team bowl eligibility.

Todd Pelino’s 26-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Blue Devils to a 24-21 ACC football win over Wake Forest on Thursday night at Wallace Wade Stadium.

The win halted a two-game losing streak for Duke (6-3, 3-2 ACC) and qualified them for a bowl for the second consecutive season.

Duke trailed 21-14 in the fourth quarter before freshman quarterback Grayson Loftis fired a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Moore to tie the game.

After Wake Forest quarterback Mitch Griffis threw an interception in Duke territory, the Blue Devils drove to the Wake 9 before Pelino kicked the field goal that gave Duke its only lead of the game.

Duke’s defense came up big

Though Griffis completed a high percentage of his passes, the Blue Devils defense made enough plays to make up for the struggling offense.

Duke stopped Wake in a pair of red zone scoring chances, forcing field-goal attempts that Deacs’ kicker Matthew Dennis missed in the first half.

In the fourth quarter, Ryan Smith intercepted a Griffis pass when the ball slipped out of the quarterback’s hands as he was throwing on a play from the Duke 40 with 4:12 to play.

That set up Duke’s drive for the game-winning points.

Griffis did finish 16 of 19 passing for 241 yards while rushing for two touchdowns. But Wake Forest only converted 5 of 13 third downs into first downs as Duke’s defense was tough in those key situations.

This just in: Duke needs Leonard

Not a shocking take or anything, but Duke’s offense misses Leonard in the worst way possible. The junior, after missing one game and being hobbled in two others during October with a sprained right ankle, is now dealing with a toe injury.

He wasn’t in uniform for the Blue Devils against Wake Forest. Back-up quarterback Henry Belin IV was in uniform. But the upper-body injury that’s bothered him since September caused Duke to give Loftis his first career start.

Loftis struggled over the first three quarters, throwing an interception and losing a fumble deep in his own territory. Duke’s defense bailed him out as Wake only scored on one of the two miscues.

In the fourth quarter, Loftis showed life. His 29-yard touchdown pass to Moore with 11:40 to play tied the game at 21.

He led Duke’s game-winning drive that was aided by a pair of massive penalties on Wake Forest’s DeShawn Jones. He committed pass interference while guarding Duke wide receiver Jordan Moore on Loftis’ third-and-14 pass from the Duke 33.

Later, after Loftis completed a 9-yard pass to Sahmir Hagans to the Wake 30, Jones was called for unnecessary roughness for body-slamming Hagans to the turf. That moved Duke to the Wake 15 to set up Pelino’s field goal.

For the game, Loftis finished 7 of 19 for 86 yards with one interception and the one touchdown pass.

Duke rushing game strong again

Duke played without starting left tackle Graham Barton for the third time in the last five games, the Blue Devils still found a way to produce a solid rushing game.

One week after being held to just 51 yards in a 23-0 loss at Louisville, Duke rushed for 181 yards.

Moore and Jordan Waters each rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown.