DURHAM, N.C. -- — A week after losing on a last-second touchdown, No. 11 Notre Dame came up with a clutch winning moment of its own.
Audric Estime slipped through a crowd and broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds left, capping a 95-yard drive that lifted No. 11 Notre Dame past No. 17 Duke 21-14 on Saturday night.
A week after losing to Ohio State on a TD with 1 second left, the Fighting Irish (5-1) trailed 14-13 when they got the ball back with 2:35 to play. Estime, transfer quarterback Sam Hartman and the rest of the offense pounced on that chance.
“It was a rough week and everybody knows that, but they continued to battle,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said. “And then to win that game the way we did, it’s not how you want it on the front end. ... But that’s a sweet victory, because what I told them last week is: Great teams find a way to win when it matters the most.”
It marked Notre Dame’s 30th straight regular-season win against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents, coming despite being short-handed with multiple receivers sidelined and after the Irish had blown a 13-0, third-quarter margin.
Most notably, Hartman illustrated that resolve with an improbable conversion that kept Notre Dame alive.
On a fourth-and-16 in the final minute, the quarterback was unable to find anyone downfield as he scrambled to his right. So with defenders not coming up to leave an open receiver, he took off and got just enough — 17 yards, with a hard collision at the end of it — to extend the drive.
“There's not a lot of good calls for fourth and that long,” Hartman said with a grin.
Estime followed with the winning score two plays later, then Hartman hit Rico Flores on the 2-point conversion to make it a seven-point game.
Duke (4-1) had a final chance to tie it, but its last offensive snap ended in disaster. Star quarterback Riley Leonard was stripped of the ball by Howard Cross III while trying to throw, leading to a loose ball recovered by the Irish to end it. But Cross' body also rolled up on Leonard's right leg, leaving him writhing in pain on the ground as Notre Dame began to celebrate the game-clinching takeaway.
Leonard threw for a 3-yard touchdown to Jordan Moore for the 14-13 lead with 9:17 left, a perfectly executed play that had Moore go in motion then leak out into the end zone for an all-alone reception.
Leonard ran for 88 yards and threw for 134 more, though he threw his first interception of the season.
Jordan Waters also ran for a short touchdown for the Blue Devils, who trailed 13-0 midway through the third quarter before finally beginning to open some running lanes against the Fighting Irish’s defensive front.
“The resiliency and the character of this team is unquestioned," Duke coach Mike Elko said. "I think you saw that again in the second half. I thought they battled their tails off, they fought and they fought and they got themselves back in a position where we had a chance to win the game.”
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish stumbled in their College Football Playoff with the Ohio State loss. But they responded with a strong defensive effort against Duke's ground game before halftime, then enough resilience to fight back when Duke was on the verge of a huge victory.
Duke: This was a big moment for the Blue Devils, starting with hosting ESPN’s “College GameDay” for football for the first time after multiple visits here for the storied men’s basketball program. Duke had already attracted national attention by blowing out preseason ACC favorite Clemson on Labor Day and had a boisterous sellout crowd, but the Blue Devils made multiple first-half mistakes — two short missed field goals, giving up 34 yards on a fake punt — that proved costly as they tried to reach 5-0 for the first time since 1994.
When the game was over, Leonard was taken to a sideline medical tent for evaluation as the teams left the field. Hartman walked across the field and waited for Leonard to emerge — on crutches — to share a quick hug and a few words before jogging off back to his the locker room.
Elko offered no details on Leonard's injury afterward.
Freeman said the goal on the final drive was to drive down, melt the clock and kick a winning field goal. He said Estime probably should’ve gone down near the goal line to keep control of the clock instead of running it into the end zone.
Was Estime thinking about it as he broke into the clear?
“No I wasn’t,” he said with a laugh. "I saw an opportunity and took it.”
Estime finished with 81 yards on the ground and two scores, the first coming from 6 yards out shortly after Jeremiyah Love's fake-punt conversion on the opening possession.
Notre Dame has a chance to bump onto the top 10 when the new AP Top 25 is released Sunday. It's unlikely Duke will slide much after the narrow loss.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish visit Louisville next Saturday, marking their third of six matchups with the ACC as part of an annual scheduling deal.
Duke: The Blue Devils have a weekend off before hosting North Carolina State on Oct. 14, marking the Wolfpack’s first drive over from nearby Raleigh since 2013.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll