Courteous rivals Duke, Wake Forest both have something on the line this weekend

The Blue Devils need a win to have a shot at a bowl, while the Demon Deacons are striving for a 10-win season

Wake Forest and Duke are just over 80 miles apart, but coach Dave Clawson and his counterpart, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe, haven’t built up a traditional in-state rivalry. (Steve Helber / AP Photo)

Duke and Wake Forest will meet on the football field for the 100th time Saturday at BB&T Stadium.

That qualifies the matchup as a rivalry, even though it might not always feel like one.

There’s no trash talking, no stealing of the opposite side’s mascot or other such shenanigans. Just a mutual respect that might have something to do with the fact that both schools were once affiliated with a church, the Blue Devils with the Methodists and the Deacons with the Baptists.

Or perhaps, as Wake coach Dave Clawson suggests, it’s just that the two programs have so much in common both on and off the field as small private schools trying to carve out their niche in the big-money, high-profile world of Power 5 football.

“I think we have similar challenges,” Clawson said at his regular weekly press conference Tuesday. “We both work at schools where players don’t come there just to play football. We work at schools where the academics are challenging.

“We’re both at places where building depth is always a little bit of a challenge. They certainly have had some depth issues the last couple of years, as have we. That’s a little bit the nature of our programs.”

Don’t let the niceties fool you, though.

Even without the usual chippiness that accompanies such a rivalry or a rotating trophy that goes to the winner each year, there’s still plenty of intensity to go around when the Blue Devils and Deacons meet.

And there’s usually something more than just pride on the line for their annual cross-divisional showdown.

Once, the matchup represented the one realistic chance either team had at getting a win in a season. Since the arrival of David Cutcliffe at Duke in 2008 and Clawson at Wake six years later, the stakes have been raised considerably.

Saturday’s renewal is no different.

While the Deacons (7-3, 3-2 ACC) will be trying to keep alive their hopes for just the second double-digit win season in school history, the Blue Devils — at 4-6 (2-4) and needing two more wins for bowl eligibility — will be fighting for their postseason lives.

If that scenario sounds familiar, it should.

“This is three years in a row of the exact same matchup,” Clawson said. “It is a seven-win team versus a six-loss team. You have a team that has a chance for a really good season and a special year against a team that is fighting for its life. If they don’t win it, they aren’t going to a bowl.

“I said this to our football team, I don’t think the last two years that the better team won this game. I think in ’17 we were the better team, but Duke came here 5-6 and had to win to get to a bowl and we turned it over twice, they hit a double-move and had a long punt return and they found a way to beat us on our home field,” Clawson added. “Last year we kind of flipped the script a little bit. We were 5-6 and had to win to go to a bowl, and they were pretty banged up at the time and we won a game we had to in order to continue our season.”

The Deacons didn’t just win. They embarrassed the Blue Devils 59-7 on their own home field. On Senior Day, no less.

It’s a result that still haunts Duke defensive end Chris Rumph, who said Tuesday that he plans to use the game as motivation for this year’s rematch.

Cutcliffe, on the other hand, is taking the less emotional approach in his preparation for the rivalry game.

“That’s a natural response from a player,” the veteran coach said when told of Rumph’s comment. “That’s who they are. They’re competitors. They remember those things. But because you say something, (it) has nothing to do with the outcome. Outcome is all about your work and what your input is.

“I don’t ever ride that emotional wave as a tool of inspiration because I think it’s shallow. Most of the time it doesn’t last.”

Unlike rivalries, even the polite ones, which stand the test of time.