This year the Blue Zone will be running a series looking back on important moments in the Duke football team's history. Today, we take you back to Sept. 12, 2009.
After dropping its season-opener at home against FCS opponent Richmond, Duke was in desperate need of a win in Week 2 of the 2009 season, when the Blue Devils traveled north to take on Army in a matchup of two unranked teams. Looking ahead in the schedule, Duke knew they were going to be in trouble the following week, when they would have to travel to Lawrence, Kan., for a date with the 22nd-ranked Jayhawks.
Before the game even started, the contest would be important for Duke. The Friday before the game Army honored basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski by enshrining him into the Army Sports Hall of Fame. Krzyzewski, a West Point alumus, was also honored at halftime of the football game.
There were many important on the field moments in this one as well. At quarterback, recent Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills signal caller Thad Lewis was the starter. The senior quarterback hit an important milestone in the second quarter. With Duke trailing 10-0, Lewis fired a strike to freshman wide receiver Conner Vernon for a 14-yard score. The touchdown was the 50th of Lewis' career, making him the second Duke quarterback and 14th ACC quarterback to accomplish that feat. For the freshman receiver, who went on to become the ACC's all-time leader in receptions, it was his first touchdown of what would become an illustrious college career.
Though Lewis had reason to celebrate after the touchdown, he soon found himself on the sidelines with a redshirt freshman getting snaps under center. Sean Renfree took the field for his first collegiate series in the third quarter.
“I had decided I wanted Sean it that series,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “I don’t like to put a quarterback in when you’re inside the 10-yard line as his first series—it’s not very fair to him. He certainly took advantage of the opportunity.”
The lack of preparation didn't hinder Renfree's debut, as quarterback needed just two plays before recording his first touchdown—a 17-yard toss to redshirt junior Brett Huffman that gave Duke its first lead of the game.
“I was really grateful to get that playcall,” Renfree said of his first throw. “It was an easy pass, just a little dump-off.”
Renfree would get even happier on the next drive, as he moved the Blue Devils 78 yards down the field, ending the drive in a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Donovan Varner. Meanwhile, the starter and team captain Lewis wasn't acting the way you'd expect during Renfree's reign.
“I told a lot of people from the beginning he’s a great player,” Lewis said said. “When his number is called, that’s what you want to see.”
Defensively the story was senior cornerback Leon Wright. Wright put the game away with his standout play in the fourth quarter, when he intercepted not one, but two passes and returned them both for touchdowns. The two scores—one of 51 yards and the other 33 yards—made him the first player in school history with two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the same quarter.