CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Duke coach David Cutcliffe has never been afraid to mix and match his quarterbacks to see what works, using both Anthony Boone and Thomas Sirk as goal-line specialists in recent years. So it was no surprise when Cutcliffe went to backup Parker Boehme with the Blue Devils mired in a three-game losing streak.
The switch to Boehme paid off, but not enough to get the Blue Devils back in the win column. Boehme led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, but two fourth-down passes to the end zone fell incomplete to leave Duke's comeback attempt in the same state in a 42-34 loss to Virginia on Saturday at Scott Stadium.
"They're both fierce competitors, they're resilient, they can both run the ball, and they both have accurate, big arms," Cutcliffe said about his two quarterbacks. "I want them to be more consistent down the field. They know what they are doing."
Duke (6-5, 3-4 ACC) rallied from a 22-point fourth-quarter deficit and drove inside the Virginia 20 in the final minute behind a 49-yard pass from Boehme to Anthony Nash. But Wilfred Wahee batted away Boehme's fourth-down pass attempt to Nash in the end zone to seal the victory.
"We are always going to fight," Duke center Matt Skura said. "We have a ton of pride in our program and who we are as football players. I think that shows when we have these fourth-quarter surges, coming back and trying to fight for the win."
The Duke comeback started with Boehme's 12-yard pass to T.J. Rahming. Boehme added a touchdown on a 1-yard sneak to bring the Blue Devils within one score at 42-34 with 7:24 remaining.
"The offensive line blocking their butts off gave me a whole lot of time back in the pocket seeing coverage," Boehme said. "I think their (defensive backs) bit on a couple of the double moves that we had, allowing us to get outside and throw the ball deep. T.J. and the wide receivers did a great job of beating their guys and going up and making plays for me."
But Darious Latimore broke up a fourth-down pass to Rahming to end one of Duke's late possessions and Wahee's deflection in the final minute secured the win.
"Things occurred during the course of the game where you could have turned and felt the pressure of, 'Here we go, another close game," Virginia coach Mike London said. "But these guys have been in close games, and executed and did what we needed to do to win a good football game against a good football team."
Matt Johns passed for a career-high 344 yards and two touchdowns for the Cavaliers (4-7, 3-4). Taquan Mizzell had 104 total yards and three touchdowns and caught five passes to set a school record for receptions by a running back in a season. He entered the game with 63 receptions, tied with Alvin Pearman's 2003 output.
Mizzell's first touchdown, a 3-yard run late in the first quarter, gave the Cavaliers a surprising 21-0 lead after they converted on two Duke turnovers. Previously, Latimore's end-zone interception of Sirk's pass set up a four-play, 80-yard drive capped by wide receiver T.J. Thorpe's 26-yard touchdown run.
Mizzell's second touchdown came after Virginia defensive end Mike Moore recovered Boehme's fumble. DeVon Edwards returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to get Duke got on the board. The Blue Devils' Ross Martin added two field goals sandwiched around a 36-yard scoring pass from Johns to Mizzell as the Cavaliers took a 28-13 lead into halftime.
Mizzell scored his third touchdown on a 10-yard third-quarter run before Duke got its first offensive touchdown, a 7-yard pass from Sirk to Braxton Deaver. The Cavaliers answered with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Johns to Olamide Zacchaeus two plays after Duke's standout safety, Jeremy Cash, was ejected for targeting after a massive hit on Johns.
"We have to address how to minimize the damage," Cutcliffe said. "...I start looking at technique, you look at scheme and how we can best help, and then you have to look at your personnel. That's about all I know. And it's not just about the back end. You have to look at the front end. Somebody's got to win a battle occasionally when a guy is trying to hold a ball."
Zacchaeus was on the passing end of Virginia's first touchdown, hitting Evan Butts for a 15-yard score after catching a backward pass from Johns on the Cavaliers' first drive. The score was initially ruled an illegal forward pass before the call was reversed upon review.
The trick play was one of several wrinkles Virginia offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild introduced, including several jet sweeps — one of which resulted in Thorpe's touchdown — and some positive plays out of the Wildcat formation.
"Sometimes if you open up the playbook like that and things don't go your way, the scoreboard can flip to the other end because you get quick three-and-outs," Johns said. "But we executed today very well."