Duke takes over 1st place in ACC Coastal


Duke takes over 1st place in ACC Coastal

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) It's not a misprint. That really is Duke atop the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division in football.

The Blue Devils' last-minute win over rival North Carolina sets up a meeting of division leaders this week when they visit No. 11 Florida State.

Duke's 33-30 victory on Saturday, plus losses by Miami and Virginia Tech, made the Blue Devils (6-2, 3-1) the division's only team with one conference loss.

It also marked the latest step forward in coach David Cutcliffe's massive reconstruction project at what for years had been one of the biggest laughingstocks in the Bowl Subdivision. Since Duke made its last bowl trip and had its last winning season in 1994, the Blue Devils went winless four times.

``I'm concerned about our injuries, but I'm not concerned about our emotions,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I don't think we're going to come out of here satisfied. I think this team realizes that it can win if it plays well every time we get on the field.''

The Blue Devils were one of four one-loss teams in their division heading into the weekend, joining Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. The Hokies slipped off the pace when they were routed by Clemson and the Seminoles took care of Miami in the late game, giving the top spot in the Costal to Duke.

The tough part will be staying there. The Blue Devils close the season with games against Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami, and since the ACC grew to 11 schools in 2004, their win over Clemson that year marks their only victory against any of those teams.

They'll worry about those opponents as they come. For now, it's a time to savor their first win over the Tar Heels since 2003 - and first at home since 1988 - and keep thinking big.

``We know we wanted to go bowling, but this (isn't) it,'' running back Josh Snead said. ``We (have) our eyes set on winning this division and going to the ACC championship, and then going bowling.''

This one was made even more remarkable because they did some things better than any recent - or not-so-recent - Duke team has.

The Blue Devils rolled up 510 total yards, and their 234 yards rushing marked the most by a Duke team since Cutcliffe took over in 2008. Both totals marked season highs allowed by a North Carolina defense that entered ranked in the ACC's top tier in every significant statistical category.

They also overcame a late series of events that, in most other years, would have led to yet another loss.

Duke led virtually all night, only to have a two-touchdown lead evaporate in the fourth quarter. North Carolina went up 30-26 on a bizarre play: The Tar Heels' Erik Highsmith fumbled after a long catch, Duke couldn't recover the ball and Gio Bernard scooped it up and scored.

Many previous Duke teams would have folded there. This one responded by going 87 yards in 14 plays, converting three third-and-longs to move to the North Carolina 5. On fourth down in the closing seconds, Sean Renfree rolled and threw over the middle to Jamison Crowder - who held on in the end zone as he was upended by a pair of defenders for the winning touchdown.

``That's just something that you dream about since you were a little kid,'' Crowder said. ``Watching a lot of ballgames and you see players catch game-winning touchdowns or hit game-winners in basketball. It's just a dream come true for me. I always think about that, scoring the last touchdown to win the game. It couldn't have come better against Carolina.''

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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: How does Brooks Orpik really impact the Caps?

NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: How does Brooks Orpik really impact the Caps?

No player on the Caps gets more scrutiny than defenseman Brooks Orpik. While the analytics aren't kind when he's on the ice, we got to see what the Caps looked like without him when he was scratched against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday and...well, his loss was noticeable.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir discuss what Orpik's true impact on the Capitals really is both on and off the ice on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast. Plus, they also talk about John Carlson's monster season and Barry Trotz's new strategy for the goalies.

Listen to the latest episode in the player below or here on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.