Blue Devils clip Eagles 45-0 in season opener

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke Blue Devils began their 101st season of football with a dominating 45-0 win over the NC Central Eagles during the two team’s third Bull City Gridiron Classic matchup at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.

It was the first time that the Blue Devils had shut out an opponent since beating North Carolina 41-0 in 1989, and the first time doing so at home since 1978 when they beat Wake Forest 3-0.

Quarterback Anthony Boone (16-20, 176 yards) made his second career start and led the Duke offense through a meticulous series of play calls throughout the game that made it look like he was leading a detailed medical operation.

From the first play when he handed the ball off to Juwan Thompson (6 rushes, 32 yards) for a gain of 10 yards and a first down, the redshirt junior quarterback showed the 22,251 in attendance how the Blue Devils offense would operate this season – continuously, methodically and effectively.

Utility quarterback Brandon Connette (5-8, 55 yards, 1 INT) came in to finish Boone’s work in the red zone as he completed a pass to Braxton Deaver to score the Blue Devils’ first touchdown of the season at the 5:09 mark of the first quarter.

“Anthony Boone played one helluva’ game,” Connette said.

“This is the first year where the team is his, and I mean, you couldn’t play any better than he did.”

Duke’s special teams play was highlighted by Jamison Crowder’s (6 catches, 62 yards) punt return for a 76-yard touchdown that put Duke ahead 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The Blue Devils offense under the direction of Boone and Connette continued to peel away at every layer of the NC Central defense, scoring regularly and often throughout the game.

Duke’s running game tallied 257 yards as Jela Duncan (11 rushes, 76 yards), Shaquille Powell (9 rushes, 47 yards), and Josh Snead (8 rushes, 57 yards) followed up on Thompson’s lead, moving the ball continuously up the field.

“I thought that Anthony had the kind of start you wanted him to have,” head coach David Cutcliffe said.

“He ran a very disciplined offense. He was really sharp with his throwing and decision-making – just managing and running the offense with a lot of energy and enthusiasm through a lot of heat. Our offense had good tempo.”

On the other side of the ball, Duke’s defense led by Kelby Brown (7 tackles), David Helton (7 tackles), Jeremy Cash (6 tackles, 1 pbu), and Ross Cockrell (4 tackles, 1 pbu) managed to contain the Eagles in their half of the field for much of the game.

“It was discipline and not letting up even though we were up big,” Brown said of forcing Central’s defense to go three-and-out on six different occasions.

“Putting the steam on each time we were out there – playing harder and harder – not giving up any little assignments, here and there.”

Cutcliffe was particularly pleased with his team’s consistency and effort in defending their half of the field all game.

“Can’t say enough about our defensive staff and defense,” Cutcliffe continued.

“Nice to see a shutout and in this modern era – it’s difficult (to do) – and it wasn’t a fluke. They did what they had to do.”

Hemming the Eagles into the same area of the field resulted in the Blue Devils being able to start each of their possessions on and around their own 40-yard line, and allowed them to gain valuable yards towards the red zone.

From there, they scored on 6-of-8 opportunities they had from inside 20 yards.

Kicker Ross Martin finished the game with a perfect 6-for-6 performance in converting PAT’s after each Duke touchdown and went 1-for-1 in field goal attempts.

“Our kicking game was right along there with the defense as far as the impact that they had,” Cutcliffe said.

“For the most part – outstanding.”