Lost amid the Victory Bell celebrations following Duke’s 33-30 win against North Carolina Saturday was arguably the strangest moment of the season so far. With the Blue Devils leading 13-6 in the second period, Tar Heel linebacker Shakeel Rashad substituted into the game and ran into Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon, knocking the senior to the ground.
Although Rashad was not penalized at the time, the freshman was suspended for one game by the ACC Monday “for his dangerous collision against an unsuspecting Duke player,” according to a statement by the conference. Head linesman Tyrone Davis and side judge Angie Bartis were also issued one-game suspensions for “failure to adhere to correct mechanics of the game and rules related to player safety.”
After being attended to by medical personnel on the field, Vernon left the game for one play and subsequently returned to the action.
“I want to apologize to Duke’s Conner Vernon for running into him during Saturday’s game,” Rashad said in a statement released by North Carolina. “I was in a hurry to get on the field and focused on where I was going…. I did not mean to run into him, and I’m glad he was not hurt.”
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What struck Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe was the bizarre nature of the incident.
“I can’t judge intent. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was different than what was described to me during the game. It was full speed and there was no intent to avoid,” Cutcliffe said Sunday night before the suspensions were announced. “I was amazed when I saw that this morning. I’m kind of speechless about that one. Never had that happen in my entire career—very unusual.”
Rashad, a true freshman, has played in all eight games and has recorded 14 tackles, one sack and one interception on the season.
Upon hearing the news of the suspension, the Tar Heel administration expressed their sympathy for Vernon but also their displeasure with the process that led to the ACC’s decision.
“We are disappointed with the decision to suspend him for a game,” athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “I don’t understand how the conference can suspend a player who was involved in such an unusual play without speaking to him.”