Duke not looking for feel-good ending
By Shawn Krest
The Blue Devils would like you to know that this is not a feel-good story. In fact, as Duke prepares for Saturday’s ACC Championship Game against Florida State, it’s easy to get the impression that they don’t really care how you feel.
“People say ‘There’s zero chance of you winning,’” tight end Braxton Deaver says. “We don’t like that talk. It just doesn’t work for us.”
After saying the right thing and playing the underdog role all season, Duke appears to have decided that enough is enough. The players met the media with lineman-sized chips on their shoulders, intent on demolishing narratives and choking out storylines.
“Our entire season has been based on people telling us what we can’t do,” Deaver continues. “At the start of the year, they told us, ‘You’re last in in the ACC. Hmm. That’s funny. Now we’re first. It’s nothing new, nothing we haven’t experienced before.”
More bad news than “Bad News Bears”, the angry Devils don’t want to be Rocky. They prefer to enter Saturday’s game with an Ali swagger.
“We’re gonna shock the world,” Deaver says.
While Vegas gamblers, who made the game a four-touchdown spread may expect a blowout, and the national media covering the game like the last reel of a Disney sports movie, may be looking for ways Duke can “keep it close,” the team doesn’t need to be convinced that they have a chance to win.
“I don’t think anyone doubts it,” linebacker Kelby Brown says. “The mentality on our team is that we don’t really care who we’re playing, man. We’ve taken down Virginia Tech. We weren’t supposed to win that game by any means, or Miami either.”
“We want a victory,” defensive lineman Sydney Sarmiento says, “but we need to go out & take it.”
The longest-tenured Blue Devil doesn’t want to entertain the thought that Duke can’t beat Florida State. He remembers the days when teammates had no reason for confidence.
“Way back then, we might’ve heard some guys say, ‘Let’s just try to keep it close’ or ‘Let’s just go out there and survive,’” defensive end Kenny Anunike says. “If you’re going to go into a game trying to survive, you might as well not even play. You might as well not get off the bus. This game is 90% mental and that game’s over. You’ve already defeated yourself.”
“It blows my mind that two or three years ago, I was on a team where there were a lot of kids who didn’t want it as badly as we do now,” Deaver, a junior, adds.
Now they want it. They believe, and they don’t have time for people who don’t share their faith.
“They hear the comments,” head coach David Cutcliffe says. “They’re young, and they’re human. And when you hear people chuckle, that should create an edge.”
It’s an edge that’s been honed by each win Duke posted en route to an ACC Coastal Division title.
“I think the chip has always been there,” Deaver says. “We’ve been such underdogs in so many of our games, with so many people completely writing us off. After winning 10 games, you can say ‘Okay, we should be more respected, but we’re not seen in that way.”
“Any time you win a championship, guys deserve to have a chip on their shoulder,” offensive lineman Dave Harding says. “We’re the best team in the Coastal, and rightfully so. We’re deserving of a little bit more pep in our step.”
The Blue Devils’ next steps will take them out of the tunnel and onto the field at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night, with the number one team in the nation on the opposite side of the field.
The Seminoles have stormed through the regular season, dominating the ACC and staking a claim for a berth in the BCS Championship Game.
The Blue Devil players would like to point add the phrase, “assuming they get past Duke”.
“Boston College (who lost by 14 to Florida State) came out and said, ‘We’re not scared of you,’” Deaver says. “They weren’t going to back down from anybody. We don’t care that you’re number one. We’re going to smack you in the mouth.”
“As the number one team in the country, sometimes you play not to lose,” Deaver concludes. “We’re always playing to win. We don’t have a choice.”
Deaver won’t accuse any other Seminole opponents of being scared but points out, “I saw some of the Florida game.”
No fear is a common theme among the Duke players. “I don’t want to say anybody else was scared of FSU,” defensive back Ross Cockrell says. “But we’ve got to go out and challenge them.”
Winning with bravery and attitude is almost as heartwarming as the spunky underdog winning with grit narrative. But Duke isn’t watching that movie either.
“Edge is never enough,” Cutcliffe says. “You have to back it up. It’s great to have an edge. When you get into a fight, you better have a little edge or you’ll get your rear end beat. It’s good, but you also better have a plan. Don’t just flail away swinging.”
Call it a showdown. Call it a dogfight. But don’t tell Duke that Saturday’s game is a feel-good story. One team will feel good afterward, and one won’t. Just like any other game.
“Obviously, people are loving what we’re doing,” Deaver says. “But the chip is there, because we know what we can do. We know we can win.”