The year was 2004, and the Blue Devils were in the throes of a hopeless stretch during which they endured eight winless conference seasons in 12 years.
Predictably, Tech and Bryan Randall more than doubled Duke in total offense and cruised to a 41-17 victory.
That 24-point margin was the Hokies' smallest against the Blue Devils in their annual meetings from 2004-07. Tech scored at least 36 points in each of those four games and never trailed.
Then David Cutcliffe arrived at Duke.
Long and appropriately renowned for his coaching of Peyton and Eli Manning, Cutcliffe has proven himself far more than quarterback guru. Indeed, he is the rare coach willing and able to build a program from figurative rubble.
George Welsh accomplished the same at Virginia. Jim Grobe has cleared considerable hurdles at Wake Forest. Folks may forget that Florida State was in a three-year swoon and had never finished among the Associated Press' top 25 before Bobby Bowden took over in 1976.
Cutcliffe's handiwork will be on display in the commonwealth for the second time in as many weeks Saturday when Duke (5-2, 1-2 ACC) faces Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0) at Lane Stadium. The 16th-ranked Hokies are about two-touchdown favorites, but don't believe for a minute that they can sleepwalk and survive.
With 14 starters back from a 6-7 squad that earned the program's first bowl bid since 1994, Cutcliffe believes this is the best of his six Duke teams. The Devils are experienced on both lines, have quality kickers and boast legitimate playmakers in the likes of receiver/punt returner Jamison Crowder and cornerback Ross Cockrell.
Duke's schedule is tepid — Troy is the lone victim with a winning record — and the defense is suspect as usual. But last week at Virginia, the Devils erased a 22-0 deficit by scoring 35 unanswered points. In a 58-55 loss to Pittsburgh, Crowder scored on a 62-yard pass, 7-yard run and 82-yard punt return — all in the second quarter.
Quarterbacks Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette have a combined 17 touchdown passes and 67.1 completion percentage, while tailbacks Josh Snead and Jela Duncan average 6.3 and 5.2 yards per carry, respectively.
"They are probably the most efficient offense we've faced since Alabama, really," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "They've got talent."
Though winless against Tech under Cutcliffe, Duke's considerable progress has been evident in those five defeats.
The Hokies didn't secure a 14-3 home victory in 2008 — game-time temperature was 29 degrees — until Macho Harris' interception return for touchdown in the final two minutes. A year later, the Devils were within 20-16 early in the fourth quarter before fading to a 34-26 defeat.
Defense saved Tech in a 14-10 win in 2012, and last year the Hokies scored the game's final 41 points after falling behind 20-0 in the first quarter.
Duke's 26 victories in Cutcliffe's five-plus seasons are downright remarkable considering the program's 22 combined wins during the previous 13 years.
"He's an excellent coach, and his football team shows it," Beamer said. "If you think about where Duke was and where they are now, it shows you the type of coach he is."
Duke is one victory away from the first consecutive bowl trips in program history — such invitations were far more exclusive when the Devils had nine winning records in 11 years during the 1950s and early '60s — and two away from its first winning season since 1994.
Cutcliffe and his staff are the primary reasons. Assisted by facility upgrades, they are not only recruiting well but also teaching effectively.
This does not surprise. A student assistant to Bear Bryant at Alabama, Cutcliffe guided Mississippi to five winning seasons in six years from 1999-2004. He tutored Peyton Manning as a Tennessee assistant, Eli as Ole Miss' big whistle and remains close to both.
"There's some coaches that coach, and there are some that coach but also teach, and he's always been a great teacher," Peyton told the Duke Chronicle while on campus last summer. "That's really why I came to work with him last year, and why we chose to work with him this year."
Cutcliffe, 59, has declined overtures from other schools to forge on at Duke, where much work remains. The Devils' last back-to-back winning seasons were 1988 and '89 under Steve Spurrier, and their most recent ACC championship was shared with Virginia, in '89.
Duke's history against ranked opponents is most grim. The Devils have lost 47 consecutive games to top-25 teams, dating to a 1994 victory over No. 13 Virginia; they have dropped 59 straight such contests away from Durham, 54 road and five neutral, since a 1971 win at No. 10 Stanford.
What would ending those streaks Saturday mean?
"We'd probably all be on Cloud Nine," Cutcliffe said Wednesday on the ACC's weekly teleconference. "That's just as honest as I can be. You don't want to be that. You don't want to be giddy, if you will, about any win, but I'm certain the squad and the program would feel that way. …
"I don't know if I believe in milestones, but it would be a huge step in the right direction for this program."