Behind an Anthony Boone-led offense in the junior's return to action and the best defensive performance of the year, Duke notched an impressive victory Saturday against Navy at Wallace Wade Stadium.
After allowing up 58 and 31 points in its last two contests, Duke’s defense proved it could step up when needed to, as it held Navy to one touchdown en route to a 35-7 victory. The Blue Devils, led by Boone on offense, pulled away from Navy in the second quarter and never looked back.
“It’s just momentum across the board,” linebacker Kelby Brown said. “When we can trust our offense to go out there, have a nice long series and go all the way down the field and score, we know that our job is to stop them and they can’t win. So essentially, that’s what happened today and it gave us a lot of momentum throughout the game.”
All eyes were fixed upon Anthony Boone, who started for the first time in five weeks after breaking his collarbone against Memphis. The redshirt junior did not seem to miss a beat, throwing for 295 yards and three touchdowns on 31-of-38 passing, with the completions and yards both setting career-highs.
“Anthony has mastered the offense really and has a great command of everything that’s going on back there,” offensive guard Dave Harding said. “He has a feel for what [head coach David] Cutcliffe wants in terms of speed of the game and getting plays snapped pretty quickly. He did a great job coming in off the injury and just picked up really where he left off.”
Boone connected with Issac Blakeney for a 17-yard scoring strike in the second quarter for what would be his first passing touchdown of the season but not the last. Boone also connected with Max McCaffrey on a fade route from the three-yard line to put Duke up 14-7 with 4:35 left in the first half.
The Midshipmen did not help themselves in the first half, squandering multiple opportunities when they were within scoring range. The big momentum turn came with less than a minute left in the second quarter. The Midshipmen were threatening to tie the score at 14 when Kenny Anunike sacked Reynolds, knocking the ball out in the process. Brown jumped on the ball, ending any hopes Navy had of gaining positive momentum for the rest of the game.
The game was sealed in the third quarter. Duke cushioned its lead by two touchdowns and the defense held Navy’s offense to 43 total yards.
Boone hooked up with Blakeney again with 9:52 left in the third quarter, as he hit the redshirt junior in mid-stride across the middle of the field and Blakeney ran in untouched to push the lead to 21-7.
Duke did not rely as heavily on its rushing attack early on, but the second half belonged to the backfield. After Duke’s receivers displayed their dominance through the air, the running backs took over, rushing for 140 yards and three backs averaged five yards per carry.
Jela Duncan led the group with 45 yards on nine carries, with 30 coming on the third quarter drive in which Duncan was handed the ball four times in a row, capping it with a five-yard touchdown run to put Duke up 28-7. Shaquille Powell registered his first career touchdown when he provided the lone touchdown of the fourth quarter.
Duke’s secondary fared well against the Midshipmen’s passing game, holding Navy to 89 yards through the air. Safety Jeremy Cash snagged an interception for the second game in a row in the decisive third quarter.
The Blue Devils’ front seven faced a more trying test as they battled the ninth-ranked rushing attack in the nation. But Duke’s defensive front held strong, holding Navy to 58 yards less than its average and 73 yards in the second half.
“We kind of had an advantage because we played Georgia Tech first which ran a really similar offense,” Brown said. “So coming out here, it was a lot like that game. It’s fun. We like playing these teams.”
The Midshipmen entered the contest averaging 288.8 yards per game on the ground with the attack being led by sophomore quarterback Kennan Reynolds. Reynolds was held in check as he averaged 1.9 yards per carry and completed only 46 percent of his passes.
“We were where we needed to be and didn’t give up many big ones,” Cutcliffe said. “We contested plays. We made them pitch the ball early if they were going to pitch it. We hit the quarterback multiple times. We tackled with a little more fierceness. We used out open date well defensively, I thought, and I’m really proud of what they’ve accomplished.”