Football game in a hurricane.
Check that one off the bucket list.
David Cutcliffe said Matthew was the “baddest dude on the field” and that was an understatement as torrential rains, driven by ripping winds kept the Wallace Wade stands empty and the scoreboard almost as empty.
But Duke’s 13-6 win over Army counts the same as if it had been playing in perfect weather.
There are a number of ways to approach this kind of game. Cutcliffe couldn’t keep his glasses dry, so he simply took them off. Duke ditched its downfield passing game, didn’t even think about attempting a field goal and relied on its training against Army’s option offense.
Duke’s defense made the game’s biggest plays, forcing three turnovers and holding Army to two of 13 on third-down conversions and a game-saving zero for four on fourth-down conversions.
Duke safety Corbin McCarthy said the key was to channel your inner-child. A California native, McCarthy said, “It was one of the funnest games I’ve ever played in. Before I even put pads on today, I was a giddy 12-year-old. It was one of the purest football games I’ve ever played.”
Ben Humphreys, another Californian, agreed, calling it “backyard football. It put a smile on my face. You don’t get to play in rain in California. I love it.”
Duke jumped to a 13-0 lead, neither touchdown coming in a way one have would expected. Back-up quarterback Parker Boehme came into the game on third and goal from the three, faked a run and hit tight end Erich Schneider with a jump pass for the score.
Cutcliffe said that Duke had practiced that play all week until finally getting it right and needed to find ways to get Boehme on the field more.
“He executed it perfectly. That’s something we need to grow. Daniel is getting hit too often.”
Duke extended the lead in the second quarter. Army is known for gambling on fourth down and Duke was ready and prepared. “We practiced for that all week,” Deandre Singleton said. “We were prepared to play four downs.”
Army rolled the dice on fourth and one from their 38 and came up empty when Singleton buried Ahmad Rashad for a six-yard loss,
“We didn’t get it and gave them the short field,” losing coach Jeff Monken lamented. “They hit the fade route. It was a nice throw and catch.”
The fade route was from Jones to Aaron Young, a redshirt freshman receiver who had one career reception coming into the game, a six-yarder against NC Central. It was on third and 12 from the 22.
Young has “some of the best hands on the team,” Cutcliffe said, “and we needed to get him on the field. Hopefully, this will energize him for the future.”
The 22-yard pass was Duke’s only completion longer than eight yards.
The snap from center to holder went awry and the score remained 13-0.
Army got on the board with two minutes left in the half, with another of those explosives that have vexed the Duke defense, a 45-yard burst up the middle by Andy Davidson. The Army PAT met the same fate as Duke’s second try and the teams went to hopefully dry locker rooms with Duke up 13-6.
It stayed that way. Cutcliffe said that Duke’s offense isn’t built for conditions like today—whose is—but there were other problems. Tailback Jela Duncan and center Austin Davis went down with injuries.
Cutcliffe said Duke was “concerned” for both, suggesting that neither would need surgery but that it might take some time before we see them back on the field. More evaluation needed but something to watch.
Zach Harmon moved over from guard to center and handled the brutal conditions without a hitch. Harmon has played center and Jones indicated that he and Harmon have practiced the exchange enough to have a comfort level. Still, these were pretty harsh conditions to take over at center and Harmon deserves credit for not making it worse.
Cutcliffe said Harmon deserved a pat on the back.
But the Duke offense still had a series of three-and-outs that put pressure on the defense. Army took over seven times trailing by a single score and the Duke defense got seven stops.
“We were just terrible on third downs and 0 for 4 on fourth downs,” Monken said. “Credit Duke. They played very physical. We couldn’t block them. We couldn’t sustain a block.”
A.J. Wolf stuffed Bradshaw on fourth and one from midfield late in the third quarter; Cutcliffe said Wolf played at “an extremely high level.” Alonzo Saxton II covered a fourth-quarter fumble at the Duke 31 and Deandre Singleton intercepted Bradshaw at the Duke 41.
“Being disciplined throughout the game,” Singleton said of the interception. “Everybody doing their job.”
Duke’s moribund offense was able to run out the clock, picking up two first downs, with Shaun Wilson doing most of the work four rushes for 30 yards on the final drive, as the clock ran to zero.
It wasn’t an aesthetic masterpiece. Matthew saw to that. But a W is a W. Duke is now 3-3, winning a game that keeps alive any chance they have of extending their bowl streak.
“It wasn’t ideal,” Cutcliffe said, “so when you can win and it isn’t ideal, then it’s all good.
Announced attendance was 20,613. Eliminate the zero and that might be an accurate count of the number of people in the stands.
And I don’t see how they stood it. It was nasty.
The teams combined for 17 first downs, 403 total yards, 11 completions, six fumbles (three lost) and two botched extra points and most observers thought the offenses played with poise and focus.
Did I mention it was nasty?