PITTSBURGH (AP) Duke is getting used to thriving under pressure.
Give the nation’s 24th-ranked team a tight game and they’re more than happy to let you make the mistakes while they go about their business.
The familiar formula – and a case of the jitters by Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt – kept the rapidly maturing Blue Devils above the fray in the chaotic Coastal Division.
Backup quarterback Thomas Sirk bulled into the end zone from 5 yards in the second overtime to lift Duke to a 51-48 victory over the Panthers on Saturday.
The Blue Devils (7-1, 3-1 ACC) held Pitt to a field goal to start the second overtime then went 25 yards in four plays, with Sirk’s second touchdown of the day ending it.
”We were resilient, continued to fight and believed down until the very end,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
The Panthers (4-5, 2-3) had a chance to win in regulation, driving deep into Duke territory to set up Blewitt for a 26-yard field goal attempt with 2 seconds left. The Blue Devils called two timeouts to make Blewitt think about it, and the kicker hooked it badly to the left.
”I was just trying to break a rhythm and maybe set our own rhythm,” Cutcliffe said. ”I was trying to give our players the best chance to win. It seemed like the right thing to do.”
Looked like it too after Blewitt missed a field goal from under 30 yards for just the second time in his career. Pitt coach Paul Chryst defended his kicker, who had hit 9 of 10 field goals coming in.
”I have a ton of faith in him,” Chryst said. ”We’re going to need him again.”
James Conner ran for a career-high 263 yards and three touchdowns for Pitt, but didn’t touch the ball in the second overtime. The Panthers have lost five of six after a 3-0 start while Duke remained the only team in the Coastal with less than two losses.
Anthony Boone passed for 266 yards and three scores and added 47 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground for the Blue Devils. Boone is 17-3 as a starter, tying Jerry Barger for the most wins by a quarterback in school history.
”When I’m done playing, I’ll have more of a chance to think about that and it will hit me,” Boone said ”But I’m just trying to help my team get back to (the ACC title game).”
The Blue Devils took a significant step after winning their seventh straight game decided by a touchdown or less.
Jamison Crowder caught nine passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns to become the second-leading receiver in ACC history. DeVon Edwards added a 99-yard kickoff return for Duke’s lone touchdown of the second half.
Despite all that, however, the Blue Devils needed a little luck to survive.
The Panthers rolled up 594 yards, including 71 on a drive that took the ball from the Pitt 20 to the Duke 9 to put Blewitt in position to win it.
The kicker came in 2 for 2 in attempts under 30 yards. He milled about during the two timeouts while mulling a kick that would have given Pitt’s roller coaster season a significant boost.
The snap was good. The kick not so much.
”I thought they might miss, but when they did we were glad to go to overtime,” Boone said. ”We were prepared for that. So, we had that scenario in mind, and that miss was a big deal for our team.”
The teams traded scores in the first overtime, with Conner’s third touchdown of the game coming on a typically bruising 14-yard run in which the sophomore ran through a pair of tackles before dragging defenders across the goal line.
Conner, however, did not touch the ball in the second extra period. He stood on the sideline on first down to get a breather and Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik opted to keep the ball on an option play that went nowhere. Blewitt redeemed himself with a 43-yard field goal to give the Panthers the lead.
It didn’t last. Three snaps took the Blue Devils to the Pitt 5. Sirk – who ended the first half with a 1-yard touchdown plunge on the final play – came on to replace Boone. He plowed straight ahead for the winning score, reaching the ball over the goal line as his teammates sprinted onto the field.
”I tried to remain calm, just because of the type of situation that it was,” Sirk said. ”But I wanted to do my part, and getting a chance to win the game was big for me. And this was a big win for us.”