Duke used a dominant second-quarter to turn around a slow start and defeat North Carolina A&T 45-13 Saturday night at Duke’s home opener. The win evens Duke’s record at 1-1, while the loss drops the Aggies to the same record.
Duke played the role of gracious host a little too well early on, penalties and a turnover helping the visitors to leads of 3-0 and 10-7.
The game turned around when Duke followed up an 81-yard drive by forcing a quick turnover and scoring a second touchdown 14 seconds later. The Blue Devils ended the half up 28-10 after scoring 21 points in a span of 2:36.
Duke stopped A&T on their first possession but started at their own nine after a Jacob Morgenstern hold on the punt return. A hold by guard Zach Baker nullified a first-down and Duke failed to convert on 4th and 1 from their 40, giving the Aggies a short field that they converted into a 40-yard field goal by Noel Ruiz.
Truth be told, Duke never did solve the penalty problem, being assessed 97 yards on nine penalties, with A&T not accepting a 10th. Offense, defense and special teams were all culprits.
“The first responsibility for the lack of discipline is on me,” David Cutcliffe said. “We’ve had two weeks where we’ve been penalized and a lot of them were discipline penalties. People ask ‘why don’t you address it.’ Obviously, I thought we had. We have to do that if we’re going to progress as a team.”
Duke went with lots of empty backfields and quick passes, frequently spreading Deon Jackson out as a receiver. Duke took a 7-3 lead when Quentin Harris hit true freshman Jalon Calhoun with a 38-yard scoring strike.
But the Aggies answered when tailback Jah-Maine Martin exploded untouched up the middle for 66 yards. The visitors led 10-7, with 11:20 left in the half and the Aggie fan-base making a lot of noise.
“We just made a mistake,” safety Dylan Singleton said, “and that kind of triggered us. We didn’t want them to score again.”
“We were off our game in the first half,” linebacker Koby Quansah said. “They kind of hit us in the head a little bit and told us we needed to wake up.”
A&T’s offense picked up 16 yards combined in its next three possessions.While this was going on, Duke’s offense was finding its rhythm, with quarterback Quentin Harris doing the lion’s share of the work.
“Once we got past some of our initial mental errors and penalties,” Harris said, “that was what was stalling our drives, getting behind the chains, unfortunate penalties, once we kind of settled down a little and settled in, I thought we were able to operate at our full potential.”
That potential included lots of weapons. Down 10-7, Duke marched down the field with Harris hitting six different receivers in one drive, running back Mataeo Durant catching a short pass and turning it into a 22-yard score.
“They brought both backers,” Harris said of that play, “so they had zero man coverage. Mataeo did a great job of getting open and making a couple of guys miss. Truthfully, it’s not a route we throw a lot to the running backs.”
Duke got the ball right back, Leonard Johnson forcing a fumble and Dylan Singleton recovering at the A&T 39.
“To win football games, you’ve got to force turnovers,” Singleton said. “We’re emphasizing getting the ball loose and getting it back.”
Harris went deep and hit another true freshman, Eli Pancol with the 39-yard strike.
After a three-and-out Josh Blackwell returned a punt 26 yards to the A&T 45, with 1:57 left in the half, one of several big special-teams plays that helped Duke win.
“We knew coming into the game how good they were [on special teams],” Cutcliffe said.”We knew. We put an emphasis in that area and [special teams coach] Kirk Benedict has become a special-teams coordinator and our players have really brought into it.”
Duke put the game away right before the half with another TD drive, Harris hitting three passes and scoring on a six-yard run.
“That was the whole ball game,” Aggies coach Sam Washington said. “That put everything in their possession. It gave them life.”
The game may have been over at halftime but Duke played the second half like it wasn’t. Rocky Shelton blocked a punt, recovered by Leonard Johnson, which set up a career-long 50-yard field goal by A.J. Reed. Singleton kept alive an Aggies drive with a roughing-the-passer-call but got a tackle-for-loss on the next play and Duke held the visitors to a field goal that made it 31-13.
Harris completed six passes on the ensuing drive, the last one 24 yards to Calhoun for his fourth TD pass. The final touchdown drive was mostly on the ground, with Durant taking it in from inches out.
Harris had a career game. Cutcliffe said it’s Harris’ team now and he played like it, an occasional errant pass notwithstanding. He ended the night 30-for-42, for 345 yards and a team-high 83 yards rushing. No turnovers. And with those 42 pass attempts and a few other called passes that resulted in scrambles, Harris lost not a single yard rushing.
“This shows us what our offense is capable of when we’re playing at our capabilities,” he says.
- Harris had four TD passes of at least 20 yards, which is a single-game school record.
- Ten different Devils caught passes, with true freshmen Calhoun (8 catches, 105 yards), Pancol and Darrell Harding accounting for 176 receiving yards.
- True freshman Jaylen Coleman carried the ball on Duke’s last five plays, picking up 34 yards.
- ` Twenty-one Duke players notched a tackle, led by Singleton with nine. Duke had two sacks, seven tackles for a loss, six pass break-ups and three quarterback hurries. But Duke is still looking for its first interception of the season, after getting only four last season.
- Cutcliffe said that linebacker Shaka Heyward practiced normally all week but was unable to go tonight. Brittain Brown has been battling an upper-body injury and played sparingly. Cutcliffe said Duke has 11 recruited players out with injuries.
- Attendance was announced at 38,313, at least a third of whom were disguised as empty seats.
- Duke cruises over North Carolina A&T, 45-13
- Duke freshman Jalon Calhoun on his two TDs
- David Cutcliffe assesses Duke after beating NC A&T
- ‘The best is yet to come’: Quentin Harris and Jalon Calhoun show chemistry in home opener
- AGG-VANTAGE BLUE DEVILS: Duke football blows past North Carolina A&T
- Blue Devils Top Aggies in Home Opener
- Final Book(PDF)
- Postgame Quotes(PDF)
- Final Book (PDF)
- Postgame Notes (PDF)