WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Some folks may have been anticipating this one for an old man's lifetime, and it's finally going to happen on Saturday night.
The "Bull City Gridiron Classic" will put host Duke - which is playing in its homecoming game - and N.C. Central on the football field at the same time for the first time, and it's definitely the talk of the city.
The Mayor already issued a proclamation on Monday night.
Today at 5:30, the student unions are holding a joint 5 ½-hour pep rally at historic Durham Athletic Park at which both coaches will speak and student performance groups from both schools will entertain all comers.
And all day Saturday before the 7 p.m. kickoff there will be service projects and youth clinics and cultural events bringing together the two universities and their associated communities.
Both teams are sorely in need of a win, although for the Eagles (0-3) an upset would be of the monumental variety. But even if Duke (2-1) plays well and wins convincingly, a good night against an inspired challenger from last than five miles away would be a lot bigger feather in the cap than another one against a Brand X Championship Subdivision team nobody in Durham knows.
For the longest time in the bad old days, the schools didn't play because of race. Then they didn't play in any official athletic events for another long time because Duke was Division I and NCCU was Division II. Now that the Eagles are in transition to become a full member of Division I (Championship Subdivision) in 2011-12, the game is a natural.
"I think it's a great opportunity to Durham to come out and see good football," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who has done a much better job of attracting black athletes - and even hometown black athletes - to the program than any previous Blue Devil mentor. "I would think the atmosphere in Wallace Wade Stadium should be the best it's been since we've been here. I think it's going to be a fantastic Saturday night atmosphere in Wallace Wade.
"They have a fine staff. Their director of athletics (Ingrid Wicker-McCree) has done a fine job. They have a new field (surface). I think there's a celebration going on at Central about who they are. There's a celebration going on at Duke about who we are. You put the two together in Durham, and how awesome is that that we've got programs that are on the rise right here in Durham? I see it as a celebration of two programs that are headed in the right direction."
Duke now has dozens of black football players. Like Duke, NCCU is no longer a racially segregated football team, instead having whites in several key spots on the field and many others as assistant coaches and in the larger support staff.
"A lot of people were pessimistic about this ever happening," said NCCU coach Mose Rison, who counts Duke AD Kevin White among his oldest and best friends. "People are very excited about this. We've had success here in football, and people have wondered how good can we be? Are we good enough to play with a school like Duke in the ACC? The wondering minds have wondered if it could happen. But it's going to take a monumental effort for us to win this football game. I know everybody's excited. It's going to be a fun atmosphere."
One more post is coming tomorrow, folks. We'll see what the players have to say. Read on for keys to the game.
Duke (1-2) vs. N.C. Central (0-3)
[7 p.m. Saturday, Wallace Wade Stadium]
Audio: WDNC-620, WRJD-1410, goduke.com, nccueaglepride.com.
Video: ACC Select (PPV)
Key stats ...
Duke: Team scoring 22.3 to opponents' 29.0. Rushing 61.3 to 181.0. Passing 271.7 to 204.7. Individual leaders - (rush) Re'quan Boyette 34-88 0TD, (pass) Thaddeus Lewis 55-98-2-594 3 TD, (receive) Johnny Williams 17-208 1 TD, (tackle) Vincent Rey 32.
NCCU: Team scoring 14.7 to opponents' 26.3. Rushing 98.3 to 153.7. Passing 176.7 to 119.3. Individual leaders - (rush) Tim Shankle 54-241 0 TD, (pass) Michael Johnson 46-84-4-472 4 TD, (receive) Geo Irvine 13-175 2 TD, (tackle) Donald Laster 25, 1FF, 1 FR.
Best message board tidbits on the game:
10ispro on www.DevilsIllustrated.com: "I know (running back Desmond Scott) is a freshman and he had to earn his way ... But it's a little ironic that Cut waits 'til a game with the two D-I programs in Desmond's home town to get him his first touches. I think this was planned to one degree or another. As it was stated above, this is a perfect game to get DS introduced to the college game. Based on what I saw of him in the fall scrimmages Scott may make a lot more noise catching passes ... He will be a big threat either way."
Eagle Pride on www.onnidan.com: "I am ready. It's funny saying this, 'Let's beat Duke.'"
Duke will win if ... The Blue Devils play as well as their average game so far this season and don't suddenly turn to mush. Duke has 85 scholarships to 49 for NCCU and is certainly going to be deeper in the trenches. The Blue Devils are exactly even on turnover margin. They play better competition on a regular basis, and the smallest crowds they usually play before are at home.
NCCU will win if ... The Eagles play one of the best games in school history. They would have to take their first three quarters against Liberty two weeks ago, stretch it to four and then have some good bounces. Rison said it would take a monumental effort for his team to win, and he's right. A monumental effort that would include winning possession time, perhaps a +3 turnover margin and a +2 sack margin plus a win in the kicking game would make it possible.
Can the French Blue Devils shoot down the Soaring Eagles? Well that's certainly what should happen. NCCU shouldn't have a complete "deer in the headlights" outlook, but if it did occur the Eagles would be in deep, deep trouble. I don't think any 42-point spread is accurate, because Dunkel often has NCCU underrated because of its erratic schedule. Sagarin has the spread at 30. But if Duke hasn't put the game away after three quarters at the very least the Eagles have a moral victory.
Players to watch ...
Duke: #9 QB Thaddeus Lewis, #21 RB Re'quan Boyette, #3 DT Vince Oghobaase, # 31 MLB Vincent Rey.
NCCU: #11 LB Donald Laster, #15 QB Michael Johnson, #50 LB Teryl White, #83 WR Will Scott.
Injury report ...
Duke: WR Conner Vernon (ankle) probable, WR Johnny Williams (ankle) probable, RB Jay Hollingsworth (ankle) doubtful, DT Vince Oghobaase (leg) doubtful, RB Re'quan Boyette (leg) OUT, RB Kyle Griswould (leg) OUT, CB Randez James (hand) OUT, OG Mitchell Lederman (leg) OUT.
NCCU: RB Tony McCord (ankle) probable.
Vegas line: None. Dunkel says Duke by 42 1/2
Score prediction: Duke 42, NCCU 17