DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke Blue Devils opened the 2016 season with a dominating 49-6 win over cross-city opponent N.C. Central in the fifth playing of the Bull City Gridiron Classic on Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.
Daniel Jones made his first collegiate start and became only the fourth freshman quarterback at Duke to do so since 1951.
With redshirt senior Thomas Sirk recovering from a season-ending Achilles tendon injury, head coach David Cutcliffe went with Jones with no intention of restricting him in any way.
“I don’t ever put a leash on a starting quarterback, because they earned it over a period of time,” he had said earlier in the week.
“So he’s going to go play, and he will have the opportunity to play.”
Play he did.
Jones’ debut was impressive as he completed 10-of-15 pass attempts for 189 yards for two touch downs and rushed twice for 28 yards and scored his first career touchdown as he set Duke on its way to recording its fourth consecutive season-opening win for the first time since 1960-63.
He set the Duke record for passing touchdowns and tied the record for most yards by a freshman quarterback making his first career start.
“I was really excited coming out,” Jones said.
“Obviously, there were a little bit of nerves, being the first game at this level. But once we got a few snaps in, it was just back to playing football, doing what we love. It was a good time.”
Running back Jela Duncan recorded his third career 100-plus yard game, finishing with 115 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns.
“We were clicking on all cylinders,” Duncan said.
“Daniel Jones was out there dropping dimes, like I knew he could. Even though he’s young, we tell him all the time that we have his back.”
Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris and defensive tackle A.J. Wolf led all Duke defenders with six and four tackles, respectively to go with four combined sacks – three for Wolf and a single for Giles-Harris.
“We certainly played well enough to have a shutout,” Cutcliffe said.
“I was pleased that we played so many people on defense up front…Offensively, I thought we were amazingly efficient early.”
Duke was just too deep and too strong on both sides of the ball in this one.
Duncan’s back-to-back rushing scores along with receiver Johnathan Lloyd’s 55-yard catch-and-run finish, a career first, established Duke’s 21-0 lead after the opening quarter.
Jones’ rushing TD along with a 20-yard pass to tight end Eric Schneider extended the margin to 35 with 6:56 to play in the half.
Backup Parker Boehme (6-8, 38 yards, 1 TD, 1 sack; 7 carries, 68 yards, 1 TD) then made his first appearance in the game.
He completed two passes before a fumble by Joseph Ajeigbe (6 carries, 15 yards) on a hard tackle by Central’s Alden McClellon, who co-led the visiting defense with eight tackles, gave the Eagles the ball on their 41-yard line.
The Blue Devils managed to get the ball back after a three-and-out and led to Boehme’s most impressive play of the game.
The redshirt junior put together a dodging and spinning 34-yard run that almost put him into the end zone, falling four yards short with 1:12 to go.
Boehme then completed a jump-pass to tight end Davis Koppenhaver that extended the Duke lead to 42 points.
An Eagles miscue on the ensuing kick return gave the ball back to Duke.
Another touchdown, this time a keeper from Boehme gave him his first score of the season and the Blue Devils a 49-0 lead they carried into the locker room at halftime.
The Eagles hadn’t scored a point against the Blue Devils since the two teams’ meeting in 2012, and continued that trend through most of the third quarter.
Try as he might, quarterback Malcom Bell (7-25, 74 yards, 1 INT) struggled to move his offense across the fifty-yard line, let alone the goal line, getting sacked five times throughout.
However, with 1:16 to play in the quarter, place kicker Brandon McLaren carried a 48-yard field goal attempt and posted Central’s first points of the game on the board.
The Eagles soon got the ball back to end the period and eventually set up a successful 34-yard kick through the uprights from McLaren.
Leading 49-6 with 14:12 to play, Cutcliffe dipped deeper into his depth chart and allowed redshirt freshman quarterback Quentin Harris (0-3) to work with running backs Zach Boden (12 rushes, 37 yards) and Nico Pierre (7 rushes, 22 yards) to get reps in and work the clock down until the final whistle blast sounded.
It wasn’t a perfect game as turnovers, a fumbled snap on a punt, and too many penalties were areas that Cutcliffe wanted to correct before hosting Wake Forest next week in an early-season Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) matchup.
“We won’t win if we do those things,” he said.
“Just pleased that we didn’t have any major injuries; we got a lot of people played. We came away with a nice win, and now we have an opportunity on Tuesday and Wednesday to see what we’re made of.”