DURHAM The 2007 Duke football team did not know how to put teams away.
The 2008 version appears to have a good handle on that after trailing at halftime before beating Navy 41-31 at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.
"We got a taste of what it was like to dominate a team and lose last week," said Duke senior fullback Tielor Robinson of Duke's 24-20 loss to Northwestern on Sept. 6.
"So we knew how to do it. ... Today we did."
Finishing takes plays like Duke receiver Eron Riley's 49-yard catch-run-and-score play to give Duke a 10-point lead with 10:35 left in the game, and Duke cornerback Adrian Aye-Darko's interception of Navy quarterback Jarod Bryant with about seven minutes left.
It takes the ability to manage the clock, which Duke did the rest of the way.
Though the Devils (2-1) didn't run the ball well with 79 yards on 34 attempts, they executed twice on third-and-long plays to keep the clock moving.
Senior receiver Rafael Chestnut caught a 23-yarder on third- and-10, and freshman Johnny Williams hauled in a 10-yard catch on third-and-7.
By the time, Duke gave the ball back to Navy (1-2) on downs, just 24 seconds remained.
Duke owned the fourth quarter after Robinson scored on a 2-yard dive, his first rushing touchdown at Duke, with 1:46 left in the third to give the Devils a 34-24 lead. But the Devils didn't sign the pink slip until after Bryant, who replaced injured Navy starting quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, hooked up with Tyree Barnes for a 68-yard score for Navy to close the gap again.
That's when Aye-Darko pounced and Riley scored the third of his three touchdowns from Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis on the day.
"We think we're back in it, but you have to give Duke credit," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "Those guys have obviously bought into what [Duke coach David] Cutcliffe is preaching and they continued to fight."
Finishing takes great defense and good field position. After giving up 171 yards on the ground in the first half, Duke gave up just 36 the rest of the way while doing good work on punt coverage to keep Navy pinned back.
Duke linebacker Vincent Rey, who made 12 tackles, four for negative yardage, also recovered a fumble and returned it 37 yards for a Duke touchdown late in the second quarter.
Late in the third, Navy went for it on fourth-and-1 on its own 38. Duke freshman defensive lineman Charlie Hatcher and senior linebacker Michael Tauiliili, who made 13 tackles in the game, stopped Bryant short of the first down.
"Coach Cut tells us that we make the breaks ourselves," Rey said. "When things go good, it's because of us. ... So we just have to keep running to the ball and good things will happen."
Finishing has its privileges, like being able to fully celebrate Lewis, who threw for 317 yards, and Riley becoming the all-time leading quarterback-to-receiver scoring connection in Duke history with 17 touchdowns.
Seven of those scores, four last season in Annapolis, Md., and three on Saturday, came at Navy's expense.
A year ago, the Lewis-to-Riley combo helped Duke to a late 10-point lead at Navy, but the Devils still lost.
In 2008, even in the midst of a rock 'em, sock 'em remix of that 2007 contest, the Blue Devils were able to secure the victory.
"It's a mind-set," Lewis said after a third 300-plus-yard career passing game. "Maybe sometimes [before this season] there was doubt in our minds, but that's not the case now."
Cutcliffe, seeing how physically fresh Duke was at the half, told his players he needed execution on all fronts.
"That was as good a display as I've seen," he said after the game.
Cutcliffe said anyone watching last week's loss to Northwestern saw Duke already knew the secret.
Trailing by four at home against the Wildcats, Duke made a defensive stop, then drove down the field and scored. The touchdown was called back on a penalty, but Cutcliffe said the intent was there.
"A week ago, we lost in the second quarter. We kind of disappeared," Cutcliffe said. "We didn't disappear [against Navy]. We had some errors in the first half, but that field goal at the end of the first half was a great indicator how focused this team was."
Sometimes finishing also requires a little fairy dust.
On Saturday, the score was tied at 17 when Navy's Bobby Doyle found the end zone from 17 yards out to give the Middies a 24-17 lead and what looked like all the juice for the second half.
But Duke kickoff specialist Joe Surgan, the much-maligned Duke kicker with the long leg but shaky accuracy in clutch spots the past two seasons, nailed a career-best 52-yarder as time expired.
The field goal tied for the eighth longest field goal in Duke history and cut the Navy lead to 24-20.
"I tell them that nobody is going to give you anything," Cutcliffe said. "That's why we make them earn everything. ... That's how they got confidence. You can't fool a kid. They know they're quicker. They know they're stronger. So they earned everything they've done."