Duke uses strong second quarter to complete comeback against Troy

Redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Boone led the Blue Devils with 268 yards and a touchdown through the air and added 47 yards and a pair of scores on the ground.
Redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Boone led the Blue Devils with 268 yards and a touchdown through the air and added 47 yards and a pair of scores on the ground.

TROY, ALA.—Duke used a 21-point second quarter to overcome a slow start en route to a 34-17 win against Troy at Veterans Memorial Stadium Saturday night.

Trailing 14-3 early in the second frame, the Blue Devils needed a two huge stops on fourth down and a couple of big scoring plays from quarterback Anthony Boone to take a 24-14 lead into the half. Although Troy was able to stop the bleeding in the second half, the game never felt within reach as the Blue Devils prevented the Trojans from reaching the end zone again.

Duke (2-0) looked sloppy out of the gate, failing to reach the end zone in its first two drives and allowing Troy (0-2) to advance the ball with ease. The Trojans' hurry up offense averaged 6.7 yards per carry in the first quarter and had just one incompletion through the air as they put together two long scoring drives.

“I think maybe our team didn’t understand—although we tried to tell them—what it means to come in here,” head coach David Cutcliffe said of traveling to Troy. “I don’t think they understood it. There’s nothing easy about it.”

The Blue Devils finally found the end zone with a 30-yard touchdown scamper by Boone on their third possession. The score was the first of the redshirt senior's two rushing touchdowns on the day—a feat he accomplished only one other time in his career.

The captain mixed brilliance with mistakes through the air, finishing with 268 yards and a touchdown on 27-of-41 passing. Boone did not commit a turnover and tossed a couple of beautiful passes for a fourth down conversion and a long touchdown connection, but missed a number of throws to open receivers, sometimes badly.

“It’s a tough adjustment,” Boone said. “It took us a while to settle in, but that slow start is something we can’t do throughout the season.”

After Boone's rushing score, the Trojans took over with good field position and the opportunity to retake an 11-point lead. But the Blue Devils used three straight tackles from David Helton, who led Duke with 15 tackles overall, to force a fourth-and-short attempt from Troy. With nothing having gone Duke’s way up to that point, the defense came up with the stop they desperately needed when sophomore safety Deondre Singleton stood up and took down Trojan running back Jordan Chunn in the back field.

“That’s a turnover,” Cutcliffe said. “Even though we don’t take the ball away, that is literally a turnover.”

The stop on fourth down gave the Blue Devils the ball in Trojan territory, and seven plays later Duke took the lead with a two-yard jump pass from redshirt sophomore Thomas Sirk to tight end David Reeves. The touchdown pass was the first of Sirk's career and put the Blue Devils ahead to stay.

After a quick defensive stop and a Troy punt, Duke tacked on another score on a 49-yard connection between Boone and Issac Blakeney, who led the Blue Devils with 90 yards on five catches. Blakeney has benefited from an offseason change that now has him lining up to the outside of fellow receiver Max McCaffrey.

“We are seeing results of it consistently,” Cutcliffe said of the move. “Issac is very difficult for people to play one on one. He is a big man versus corners. He is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound man, and he can mismatch people.”

Blakeney’s long score capped off Duke’s second 21-point second quarter in as many games and gave the Blue Devils the 24-14 they took into halftime.

“In the beginning they outplayed us, plain and simple,” junior running back Shaquille Powell said. “We had penalties, which are a lack of discipline that can’t happen. For us to bounce back is a really good sign.”

After struggling to keep up with the Trojan offense at the beginning of the game, Duke’s defense seemed to find its groove after notching its first few stops, and the squad carried that stronger play into the second half. A third stop on fourth down and a crucial hold in the red zone on third down allowed the Blue Devils to limit Troy to a third quarter field goal on the half.

“When the players settled into it, we were much more consistent,” Cutcliffe said. “When you look at the three points for the rest of the game, that’s pretty good production.”

Relying on a rushing attack that balanced carries between Boone, Powell and redshirt senior Josh Snead, Duke did its best to milk the clock while picking up Boone's second rushing score in the third quarter and a 48-yard Ross Martin field goal in the fourth. A week after four players gained at least 54 yards on the ground, no Blue Devil reached that total Saturday night—Boone’s rushing total of 47 yards paced the team.

“I’m proud we won, but we won in a few specific areas,” Cutcliffe said. “We lost on first down on both sides of the ball, and that concerns me.”

The win marks the Blue Devils' sixth straight on the road and gives the team a 2-0 record for just the second time since 1998. With a much tougher schedule ahead, however, Duke cannot afford too many more slow starts if it wants to continue that success deep into the season.


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