With the second-half kickoff came the rain. As the stands emptied and the field became soaked, the Blue Devils got down to business.
After a slow first-quarter, No. 21 Duke got back on its feet to take down Lafayette 42-7. The Blue Devils got it done the old-fashioned way on a career-day from graduate running back Jordan Waters and a perfect performance by their quarterback trio, the first in program history. The game was put away by the midpoint of the third quarter, fulfilling the expectation of an easy night.
"Offensively, I thought we came out and we did the things we wanted to do; we threw the ball well, we ran the ball well..." said head coach Mike Elko after the game. "When you come off of a short week like that, and you got to prepare, and you just got to go out there and you got to find a way to get a result, and we were able to do that tonight."
The game was a grind from both sides. One-hundred-forty-five of Duke’s 272 first-half yards came on the ground, before the rain even started. Waters led that effort with 97 yards through 30 minutes, including two touchdowns — redemption for a first-quarter fumble.
In the more than six minutes of game time between Waters’ third and fourth carries, junior Jaquez Moore had four touches, only totaling 13 yards on the three recorded carries. But then Waters got the call — the first since his surprise strip fumble in the first quarter — and took off. Twenty-three yards, then five more, for his first touchdown of the game.
"I didn't even need to have a conversation with him," said Elko. "He actually came over to me and apologized [for the fumble] and said, 'let me keep playing, please.'"
Waters got his second that same quarter on a 16-yard scamper, putting him above his previous 91-yard career-high game total. The Fairmont, N.C., native ended up with 112 yards, smashing last year’s record and establishing himself as Duke’s top rusher with Jaylen Coleman sidelined.
Lafayette’s lead back, Jamar Curtis, dominated headlines entering the game. The 5-foot-8 sophomore ran for 181 yards in his team’s season opener against Sacred Heart. The Waldorf, Md., native couldn’t replicate that same success against the Blue Devils (2-0, 1-0 in the ACC). Curtis split carries fairly evenly with Jermaine Conyers, with neither topping 40 yards. Sophomore quarterback Dean DeNobile, in his first start, threw for 87 yards including the lone touchdown of the day for the Leopards (1-1, 0-1 in the Patriot League), a 12-yard pass to Chris Carasia in the first quarter. However, the Duke secondary had DeNobile’s number, picking him off twice — once each by junior Joshua Pickett and graduate student Myles Jones.
After a near-goal-line stop and touchdown allowed, Duke was ready to rally. It started on its 35-yard line after an out-of-bounds penalty on the kickoff, and Waters found a hole in the defensive line. Nineteen yards upfield, Gabe DuBois stripped the ball out of his hands, seamlessly taking possession without the ball even touching the ground. The Blue Devils redemption drive had ended just as quickly as it had begun.
Leonard’s 12-for-12 performance, a perfect night, was a massive leap in efficiency from his 17-for-33 day against Clemson Monday. The junior captain relied more on his arm and didn’t fully exploit his speed, totaling 136 yards through the air before being relieved by redshirt freshman Henry Belin IV in the third quarter. It was Leonard’s 16-yard dart to redshirt senior receiver Jalon Calhoun that started the Blue Devils’ scoring on their first possession. Belin took over right where Leonard left off, scoring on a quarterback sneak on just his 25th career snap. Belin threw for another touchdown in the fourth quarter, a five-yard pass to junior receiver Jordan Moore.
"He's a playmaker," senior linebacker Dorian Mausi said of Belin. "He makes plays, and that's what he did."
From the opening kick, it was Duke’s game to lose. Though they lost the toss, the Blue Devils took advantage of the first offensive possession. Starting on their own 32-yard line, Waters got the first two calls, rushing for 17 and nine yards, respectively. Duke didn’t face a third down until third-and-7 on Lafayette’s 16-yard line, which it converted and then some as Leonard found Calhoun up the middle with room to run. The redshirt senior took it in for the easy score, putting his team on top from the jump.
The Blue Devils stay in Durham next weekend, taking on Northwestern at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.