This time, No. 11 Notre Dame produced the last-minute heroics.
One game after losing on the game’s final play from scrimmage, the Irish scored on Audric Estime’s 30-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds left to rally past No. 17 Duke, 21-14, Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Leading 14-13, Duke had Notre Dame (5-1) facing fourth and 16 from the Duke 47 on the Irish’s final drive. But Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman scrambled 17 yards for a first down, then spiked the ball to stop the clock with 38 seconds left.
On the next play, Estime scampered up the middle for the touchdown.
A further concern for Duke (4-1) is quarterback Riley Leonard had to be helped from the field with a right ankle injury after he was sacked on Duke’s final play from scrimmage. He was helped to the medical tent, then left the field using crutches after the game.
Notre Dame kept Duke off the scoreboard until the third quarter. That’s when the Blue Devils finally unleashed their rushing offense and Jordan Waters scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:36 left in the third quarter.
Duke took the lead on Leonard’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Moore.
But the Irish, a 17-14 loser to Ohio State a week earlier, rallied in the final minute.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Duke deals with Barton’s absence
The Blue Devils played the game without their best offensive lineman and, arguably, their second most valuable offensive player in left tackle Graham Barton. After suffering an upper-body injury in last week’s 41-7 win at Connecticut, Barton’s streak of 29 consecutive starts at left tackle ended.
But playing without the all-ACC tackle, Duke eventually found a way to run the ball anyway.
Redshirt freshman Brian Parker filled in for Barton at left tackle. Duke started center Scott Elliott and shuffled Jacob Monk, Justin Pickett and Maurice McIntyre at the guard positions with Monk also taking snaps at center.
The unit struggled to open holes in the first half, when Duke gained only 38 rushing yards on 15 attempts.
But, in the second half, Duke’s line imposed their will to fuel Duke’s second-half rally to win.
The Blue Devils finished with 189 rushing yards, with 151 of them coming in the second half. Duke broke off runs covering 34 yards (by running back Jaquez Moore) and 33 yards (by Leonard).
In the passing game, Leonard was only sacked twice, with one coming on the desperation attempt where he was injured.
It was a gutsy performance but not good enough to produce a win.
Special teams hurt Blue Devils
The headline failures on special teams were kicker Todd Pelino’s two missed field goals in the first half. Duke’s defense had kept the team in the game, allowing only 10 points. Those missed six points changed the game’s dynamic
But Duke’s special teams had a couple of other issues that helped tip the game in Notre Dame’s favor.
Notre Dame’s first drive of the game stalled at the Duke 47. On fourth-and-4, Notre Dame lined up for a punt but the ball was snapped instead to Jeremiyah Love, a running back who scampered 34 yards to the Duke 13. Notre Dame scored a touchdown two plays later to take a 7-0 lead.
The second mishap was a missed opportunity at forcing a turnover.
With Notre Dame up 10-0 early in the third quarter, Duke punted the ball toward Irish returner Chris Tyree. But Tyree muffed the punt at the Irish 33. Multiple Duke players had a chance to fall on the ball, but Notre Dame’s Ramon Henderson recovered at the 30.
Instead of Duke having the ball deep in Irish territory, Notre Dame marched down and added a Spencer Shrader field goal to lead 13-0.
Duke was tough up front, until it wasn’t
Facing one of the strongest offensive lines in the country, the Blue Devils defensive front proved a worthy foe.
Notre Dame, which entered the night averaging 5.58 yards per carry this season and was at 3.6 yards per carry before their game-winning drive, which started at its own 2.
But Hartman’s 17-yard scramble, followed by Estime’s 30-yard touchdown run turned the game toward Notre Dame.
Here are earlier updates from the game:
Riley Leonard injured
On the final contested play of the game, Riley Leonard stayed down on the ground, clutching his lower right leg or ankle. He was unable to put weight on his right leg as he was helped off the field.
On the play, he fumbled the ball, Notre Dame recovered and then knelt out the clock to end the game.
Notre Dame scores late TD
Sam Hartman led the Notre Dame offense from inside its own 5-yard line with the help of a key penalty, and Hartman’s own legs.
Down to a 4th and 12 at about midfield, Hartman broke open a run long enough to set the Irish up at the Duke 30. On the very next play, Estime broke free for a touchdown. With the two-point conversion, Notre Dame took a 7-point lead
Duke pins Notre Dame deep late
A methodical, run-first (run-only) drive from Duke bled more than five minutes off the clock. Duke made it all the way to the Notre Dame 33, the biggest play being a Riley Leonard scramble, before the Irish took a timeout to stop things. The Blue Devils could have attempted a field goal from about 50 yards, but Todd Pelino was already 0-for-2 on the game on two much shorter attempts.
So, on 4th and 4 from the Notre Dame 33, with 2:41 on the clock, Duke elected to go for it — sort of. Leonard dropped back to pooch punt, and dropped a perfect ball that was downed inside the Notre Dame 5. Irish had their chance from their own 5, 1st and 10 with 95 yards to go for a TD.
Duke takes lead from Notre Dame
Duke got a pair of big plays and a key penalty against Notre Dame to advance from its own 20 all the way to the end zone, and from 13 down, the Blue Devils are now in front.
Riley Leonard completed a 26-yard pass to Jordan Moore to get the Devils out to the 50, and then scampered for his own 33-yard run to set Duke up inside the red zone. On the next play, Leonard kept it and ran just one yard, but was hit in the hip by Notre Dame’s Jordan Bothelo, who was called for targeting for leading with the crown of his helmet.. That set them up at the 8, and three plays later, Leonard found Moore for a 3-yard TD pass.
Duke gets special teams break
Duke caught a tremendous special teams break early in the fourth quarter after a great punt from Bryce McFerson of Notre Dame appeared to skip out of bounds at the 1-yard line, which would have pinned the Blue Devils back deep in their own territory. Instead, after reviewing the video, officials awarded the Devils a touchback out to the 20.
Duke gets on the board
The Blue Devils used their running game to cut into Notre Dame’s lead as Jordan Waters’ 1-yard touchdown run left Notre Dame up 13-7 with 3:36 to play in the third quarter.
Duke marched 75 yards on 11 plays to score its first points. The big run was a 34-yard gain by running back Jacquez Moore. Duke converted a fourth-down play when Riley Leonard completed a 7-yard pass to Sahmir Hagans on fourth-and-1 from the Notre Dame 20.
Irish extend lead
Spencer Shrader’s second field goal of the game, this one from 45 yards out, pushed Notre Dame’s lead to 13-0 over Duke with 9:17 to play in the third quarter.
The Irish were in position to get the points after quarterback Sam Hartman scrambled for a 7-yard gain on fourth-and-2 to reach the Duke 29.
Duke’s two drives into Notre Dame territory both ended with missed field goal kicks by sophomore Todd Pelino, allowing the Irish to take a 10-0 halftime lead.
The Blue Devils had a chance to get on the board in the final seconds of the second half as quarterback Riley Leonard led a drive that started at the Duke 30 and reached the Notre Dame 7. Leonard’s 21-yard run was the biggest play of the drive.
But Pelino missed a 25-yard attempt as the half ended. Pelino missed a 38-yard attempt in the first quarter on Duke’s opening drive.
Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman completed 9 of 16 passes in the first half for 132 yards. The Irish gained 199 yards of total offense to Duke’s 131.
Leonard is 8 of 17 for 93 yards with one interception. That turnover, his first interception this season, set up a Notre Dame field goal.
Notre Dame adds FG
After Duke quarterback Riley Leonard threw his first interception of the season, Notre Dame settled for a 35-yard field goal from Spencer Shrader to take a 10-0 lead with 14:56 to play until halftime.
Notre Dame safety Xavier Watts intercepted Leonard’s pass over the middle, giving the Irish the ball at the Duke 13 with 1:29 to play in the first quarter. But after a false start penalty, Duke’s Ja’Mion Franklin sacked Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman on third down to halt the drive and set up the field goal.
Irish jump on top
Notre Dame used a successful fake punt to move inside the Duke 20 and needed just two more plays to reach the end zone on Audric Estime’s 6-yard touchdown run with 11 minutes left in the first quarter.
Duke thought it had Notre Dame stopped when the Irish faced fourth-and-4 from the Duke 47. But Notre Dame ran a fake punt, with up back Jeremiyah Love taking the snap and taking off on a 34-yard run.
The score is extra important for Notre Dame in this game. The Blue Devils are 11-0 under coach Mike Elko when they score first in a game.
Duke will be without starting left tackle Graham Barton, the team’s best offensive lineman, as well as cornerback Myles Jones against Notre Dame.
Both are suffering from upper-body injuries.
Barton is one of the ACC’s top offensive lineman and projected to be a first-round pick in next April’s NFL Draft. Redshirt freshman Brian Parker is expected to start in his place.
Barton has started at left tackle for every Duke game since the start of the 2021 season, a streak of 29 consecutive games. This season, he’s played 219 snaps this season and 2,379 for his career. Pro Football Focus has assigned him a pass blocking grade this season of 80.3, which is considered a high quality grade on the site’s assessment metric.
Jones, a graduate transfer from Texas A&M did not play in Duke’s 41-7 win at Connecticut last Saturday after suffering an upper-body injury in practice. He has intercepted two passes this season. Chandler Rivers is starting at one cornerback slot with Al Blades, Jr., at the other.