After several mistakes to begin the third quarter, it looked as if Duke would surrender a lead for the fourth-straight week, but it was not to be as the Blue Devils pulled out a 28-10 win Saturday at home. Ted Roof got his first win as the official head coach, and the Duke offense, led by Mike Schneider finally got on track against the Division I-AA opponent.
Signs reading the words “sustained focus” were plastered on the door and walls of the Yoh Football Center Saturday. When the Blue Devils emerged from their locker room with a 14-3 halftime lead, the players said they had the motto in mind.
In each of its first four games, Duke was unable to hold on to an early lead, prompting head coach Ted Roof to institute the motto. Against Division I-AA The Citadel Saturday, it looked like Duke’s second-half woes might continue.
The Blue Devils (1-4), however, overcame a pair of fumbles in their first two possessions in the second half to top the Bulldogs (0-3) 28-10 on Homecoming in Durham.
“It is certainly a good start,” Roof said about the team’s first win of the season. “It wasn’t pretty at times, but there were a lot of positive things. The guys hung in there and I was proud and happy to get the win.”
In the opening play of the third quarter, The Citadel’s Michael Ballentine batted down Mike Schneider’s swing pass in the backfield and recovered it for a touchdown. The Bulldogs cut Duke’s lead to 14-10, but despite additional Duke mistakes, The Citadel would not get any closer.
Starting from its own 10-yard line on the ensuing possession, Duke ran two short plays to bring up third and long. Schneider dropped back and delivered a strike to sophomore tight end Ben Patrick just shy of the first-down marker. After taking a step, free safety Brandon Hawkins forced the ball out of Patrick’s hands, and Ballentine recovered the ball to give the Bulldogs possession in the red zone.
Just when the momentum seemed to have switched to the Bulldogs, the Blue Devils came up with a decisive defensive stand. On 3rd-and-4, junior Justin Kitchen fought through the offensive line to force the Citadel’s quarterback Justin Hardin to throw under pressure. C.J. Woodard picked off Hardin returning the pick 20 yards to the Citadel 23.
“He made it a little easy for me because he threw it off his back foot and it floated a little bit,” Woodard said. “I took advantage of that and ran up under it. It seemed like it took forever to come down.”
After weathering The Citadel’s storm, Duke, which recorded a season-best 397 yards of total offense, marched 77-yards down the field to take a 21-10 lead and seal the victory. Faced with a 3rd-and-9 on its own 47-yard line, Schneider lofted a ball toward the left side line. Ronnie Elliott came across the field to snag the ball, keeping one foot inbounds for a 22-yard reception. Elliott finished the game with career highs of 6 receptions and 80 yards.
After Drummer ran for a first down to the Bulldogs’ 21, Schneider hit tight end Andy Roland with a high ball in the back of the end zone for his second touchdown of the contest.
“It’s basically just a vertical up the field, the safety flowed over, Mike [Schneider] read it and threw the ball in the back of the end zone, and I caught the ball for a touchdown,” Roland said.
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Even though they played Division I-AA competition, the win gives the Blue Devils something to build on going into their bye week. Roof said the team improved in many of the facets of the game that hurt them a week ago against Maryland.
“It was a win that we desperately needed, and I was very proud of our football team and the way they hung in there and executed especially on third down,” Roof said. “We did some good things, especially in the kicking game. But overall we got a ‘W’ so it’s something we desperately needed and it’s something I’m proud of.”
The Blue Devils offense converted on 10 of its 16 third down chances and stopped the Citadel on all but two of its 12 attempts. Capitalizing on these situations, Duke won the time of possession battle and kept its defense off the field.
“We executed much better on third down on both sides of the ball and as a result you see the differential in the plays,” Roof said. “We ran 68 [plays] and they ran 59 as opposed to last week 100 vs. 48. Obviously we’ve learned some lessons and hopefully they stick and continue to build as we get back into the league.”
Duke’s special teams also helped the team to jump out to a 7-0 lead just minutes into the game. Daniel Charbonnet blocked a Citadel punt, and as the ball rolled toward the goal line, Mike Adams kicked the ball out the back of the end zone, drawing an illegal kicking penalty. As a result of the infraction, Duke took over at the one-yard line, and Schneider dove into the end zone on the first play of the drive. Chris Dapolito, Duke’s backup quarterback playing on the special teams unit, partially blocked another punt attempt during the second quarter.
“You get two punt blocks in a season usually, but we got two in one game,” Roof said. “That’s something that we can continue to build off—the play of the special teams. They’re big plays, plays that swap the field. As opposed to being put back on the short-field.”
In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, freshman Justin Boyle added the final touchdown when he ran 83-yards.
The Blue Devils’ next game is in two weeks at Georgia Tech, giving a number of injured players a chance to heal.
“Obviously, we have some things we need to go back and work on,” Roof said. “It gives us a chance to polish some things up and grow. Like I said, just get some guys back and hopefully that will happen in a couple of weeks against Georgia Tech because we need it.”