Leonard’s late TD toss sinks Wake Forest 34-31

Nov 26, 2022, 2:21 AM | Updated: 5:35 pm
Duke head coach Mike Elko waves to fans as he walks off the field after earning a victory in Duke's...

Duke head coach Mike Elko waves to fans as he walks off the field after earning a victory in Duke's final regular season NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

              Duke's Sahmir Hagans (85) makes a game-winning touchdown catch ahead of Wake Forest's Gavin Holmes (7) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
            
              Wake Forest's Sam Hartman throws a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
            
              A pass intended for Wake Forest's A.T. Perry (9) flies incomplete as Duke's Joshua Pickett defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
            
              Duke's Riley Leonard (13) makes a throw during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
            
              Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson raises his hands after a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
            
              Duke's Jaquez Moore carries the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
            
              Duke's Sahmir Hagans scores a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
            
              Wake Forest's Sam Hartmam, right, is tackled by Duke's Brandon Johnson (30) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
            
              The football flies past Wake Forest's A.T. Perry and Duke's Chandler Rivers into the hands of Darius Joiner (1) for an interception late in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
            
              Duke head coach Mike Elko waves to fans as he walks off the field after earning a victory in Duke's final regular season NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Riley Leonard threw for a career-best 391 yards and four touchdowns and Duke used a late touchdown to close out the regular season with a 34-31 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.

Leonard, who completed 29-of-41 passes, connected with Sahmir Hagans for the game-winning score, a 20-yard reception with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Hagans finished with two touchdowns and set career-highs in receptions and receiving yards, as did Duke’s Jalon Calhoun. As a duo, Hagans and Calhoun accounted for 19 receptions and 313 receiving yards. With the win, the Blue Devils (8-4, 5-3 ACC) snapped a three-game losing streak in their series with the Demon Deacons and recorded their first eight-win regular season since 2014.

“I think we put down a marker about how long it’s going to take for Duke football to get competitive,” said first-year Duke coach Mike Elko, who inherited a program that went 5-18 in 2020 and 2021.

Wake Forest (7-5, 3-5) quarterback Sam Hartman completed 26-of-42 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted late in the fourth by Duke defensive back Darius Joiner. Demon Deacon wide receiver A.T. Perry had eight catches for 87 yards and a score in the loss.

THE TAKEAWAY

Wake Forest: In late October, the Demon Deacons were 6-1 and ranked 10th nationally. Coach Dave Clawson’s team then lost four of its final five regular-season contests, and defense was once again a big issue for Wake Forest on Saturday. Wake Forest now has given up 30-plus points in four straight games, and Duke had multiple offensive playmakers with career days. The Demon Deacons surrendered five plays of at least 20 yards, including Duke’s game-winning score.

“We had a chance on defense to get a stop, and it’s been our Achilles’ heel all year — our inability to defend the deep ball,” Clawson said. “We’ve struggled all year defending the deep ball and a disappointing way to end the season.

Duke: The Blue Devils closed out first-year coach Elko’s first regular season in grand fashion. Punctuated by Leonard and Hagan’s big days, Duke once again illustrated their impressive turnaround after going 3-9 last year and showed that there’s a lot of young talent around for the years to come as well.

ELKO LEADS TURNAROUND

Few people expected Elko’s first regular season coaching the Blue Devils ending with him tying the program record for most wins by a first-year coach. Yet, Elko and his staff have found a way to take an offense and defense that ranked 102nd and 127th in scoring last year, respectively, and vastly improve both groups. Entering Saturday, Duke ranked 34th in scoring offense and 35th in scoring defense.

“The thing that stands out the most to me is we go into every game expecting to win,” Leonard said. “And trusting that if we do our job, we’re going to win. I know that in years past, some guys predetermined things in their heads, but this year, there was not one game that we went into thinking we were going to lose.”

Even in defeat, Duke has been competitive, with each of its four losses coming by a score or less.

Added Calhoun, a senior who had career-bests in catches (11) and receiving yards (174): “We always knew we could be special. It was just putting the right pieces together and getting the culture back where it needed to be.”

UP NEXT

Both Wake Forest and Duke await bowl invitations. Wake Forest has played in a bowl every season since 2016, and Duke is bowl eligible for the first time since 2018.

___

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Alex Hall of the United States, checks the score following his run in the slopestyle finals,...
Associated Press

Winter X daredevils ride fine line between height, happiness

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Freestyle skier Alex Hall’s happy place this winter has been sliding down hand rails outside of offices and schools all over Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and other midwestern spots. The steeper and twistier, the better. Last winter, he found happiness at the Beijing Olympics on a run that nobody mistook for […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Georgia: SUV in crash was for recruiting, not personal use

Georgia athletic department officials say the vehicle involved in a crash that killed a football player and employee on Jan. 15 was to be used only for recruiting activities, not personal use. The University of Georgia athletic association provided that information in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday, saying personal use of the […]
1 day ago
FILE - Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy (15) during an NCAA college football game between Iowa St...
Associated Press

Hurts, Purdy set for college-era rematch in NFC title tilt

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy could be primed for a shootout in the NFC championship game. It’s the first time Hurts — the league MVP finalist for the Philadelphia Eagles — and Purdy, the ” Mr. Irrelevant ” rookie sensation for the San Francisco 49ers, have matched up in the NFL. And […]
1 day ago
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pays his respects to victims of a deadly helicopter crash d...
Associated Press

Russia issue looms for Paris Olympics, Zelenskyy rebukes IOC

GENEVA (AP) — The question of if and how Russia competes at the Olympics hangs over the 2024 Paris Summer Games. Just as it has now for five straight Olympics during Thomas Bach’s leadership of the IOC, whose support this week for some Russians to compete in Paris was publicly challenged Friday by Ukrainian President […]
1 day ago
Switzerland's Wendy Holdener speeds down the course during an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom,...
Associated Press

Shiffrin wins slalom, moves within 1 win of World Cup record

SPINDLERUV MLYN, Czech Republic (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin celebrated with a shoulder wiggle and a bright smile Saturday after dominating a slalom and moving within one victory of the 34-year-old World Cup record of 86 wins. The American showed no signs of pressure, a day before another slalom in which she could match the best […]
1 day ago
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus holds the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy aloft after defeating Elena Ryb...
Associated Press

Aryna Sabalenka wins 1st Grand Slam title at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — One point away from her first Grand Slam title, Aryna Sabalenka faulted. And then she faulted again. She grimaced. She yelled and turned her back to the court. She wiggled her shoulders and exhaled. Clearly, this business of winning the Australian Open was not bound to happen without a bit of […]
1 day ago
Leonard’s late TD toss sinks Wake Forest 34-31