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'Very unique game': Duke football's crazy win against Charlotte embraces the spirit of Halloween

Two blocked punts, both by freshman safety Isaiah Fisher-Smith, was just one of the many unusual aspects of Saturday's contest.
Two blocked punts, both by freshman safety Isaiah Fisher-Smith, was just one of the many unusual aspects of Saturday's contest.

When the sun sets on Halloween evenings, nothing seems to go as it should. The last time the Blue Devils hit the field on the final day of October, eight laterals and an array of missed calls resulted in the infamous 2015 last-second loss to Miami.

This Halloween, 274 yards and six scores on the ground led the Blue Devils to a commanding 53-19 victory against Charlotte. But typical of the holiday, it was the unusual numbers and events that tell another story of how Duke turned in its second win of the year.

“It ended up being a very unique game,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “With a short field, we only had the ball for 17-and-a-half minutes. And you score 53 points—it’s almost impossible to do.”

On just the second play of the game, quarterback Chase Brice handed the ball off to senior running back Deon Jackson, who ran it 65 yards into the end zone for a touchdown just 25 seconds into the game. In most contests, a scoring drive that lasts less than a minute would be an anomaly. But on Halloween, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

On Duke’s third possession of the game, the Blue Devils needed only four plays and 57 seconds for Mataeo Durant to finish off the drive with a three-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead. 

Then, early in the second quarter, Duke scored again. On the second play of the drive, Durant ran 60 yards up the middle to set the team up in the red zone. Two plays later, the junior darted 10 yards into the end zone to give the Blue Devils a 24-0 advantage. This drive took all of 47 seconds.

Time of possession is one measure used to determine how well a team is playing, but that was not the case this time out. Duke  held possession of the ball for less than half that of Charlotte, 17:33 compared to 42:27.

That wasn’t the only abnormal part of Saturday’s contest, though.

After barely missing a blocked punt on Charlotte’s first boot, the Blue Devils made contact on the second, with freshman safety Isaiah Fisher-Smith tipping the ball and setting up Duke with great field position at the 49er 31-yard-line.

But Fisher-Smith wasn’t done.

Early in the third quarter, Fisher-Smith helped out his offense once again, blocking his second punt of the game. This one downed the ball at the five-yard-line, with Jackson promptly running it into the end zone to put Duke ahead 31-7.

Cutcliffe noted after the game that he and special teams coach Kirk Benedict did envision the potential for another blocked punt after Duke did just that last time out at N.C. State, but few could have expected multiple blocked kicks from the same player, a freshman at that.

“Kirk and I sit down on Mondays on our normal day off and we go through all of that,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re always going to look at fake opportunities, block opportunities—anything to try to gain a winning edge.”

Even after all that, the oddities of Saturday’s game were far from over.

Late in the third quarter, the 49ers put together a 15-play, 83-yard drive that ended in a touchdown. Down by 18 points, Charlotte decided to go for two and set up a screen pass to an offensive lineman. The backward pass was fumbled and the Blue Devils recovered, taking it all the way to the other end zone for a two-point score to widen their lead to 39-19.

Charlotte then caught Duke off guard with an onside kick up the middle that the kicking team recovered. However, the 49ers were flagged for blocking inside the 10-yard designated area, calling for another kickoff. This time, Charlotte floated the ball in the air past the 10-yard area and recovered again, but yet another penalty flag hit the grass and an instant replay showed that the Blue Devil receiver called for a fair catch. As a result, Duke gained possession on top of a 49er penalty.

Then, on the final kickoff of the evening following Duke’s sixth and final rushing touchdown, the Blue Devils were called for a five-yard equipment penalty as a result of running out two players both wearing the number 46: senior Aaron Wright and redshirt freshman Mason Russell.

All in all, Duke notching a win against Charlotte was not unusual, but almost every part of the win was. The seemingly impossible became probable, and the unknown became reality. At the end of the day, in its first Halloween game in five seasons and in a year unlike any other, maybe it all should’ve been expected.

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