by Mike Potter
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM History is being made in the old Bull City tonight, but unfortunately Mother Nature hasn't decided to cooperate.
Although the rains aren't still falling at kickoff, the field is wet for the start of the first "Bull City Gridiron Classic" - the inaugural football meeting between cross-town rivals Duke and N.C. Central - and the crowd is going to be somewhat smaller than expected. It's not a record crowd, but 26,390 and a full press contingent come out on an absolutely nasty night for football on which the Devils pull away with a big second half to win 49-14.
There has been a week of festivities around the game, with a Mayoral proclamation on Monday night, a big joint pep rally at newly remodeled historic Durham Athletic Park on Thursday and a day of service projects and basketball clinics involving students from both universities today.
The schools have previously met in both men's and women's basketball, baseball, tennis and cross-country dual meets and have had plenty of joint appearances in track & field.
But this is the first football meeting, primarily of late because the Eagles are in transition from NCAA Division II to Division I (Championship Subdivision) while Duke has played in the top level in football since the program was first established well over a century ago.
Duke will be a heavy favorite tonight, as the Eagles are playing only their second game against a team above the Championship Subdivision level (they lost 50-14 at Western Kentucky, which was transitioning from Division I-AA to Division I-A two years ago).
Duke - which is playing its annual homecoming game - comes into its final non-ACC regular-season game of the season with a 1-2 record, while the Eagles are 0-3.
After the traditional press box barbecue and fried chicken and banana pudding and sweet tea, Hillside high alum Desmond Scott gets his first collegiate touch on the opening kickoff and the Blue Devils are in business.
Duke needs five plays to go 59 yards, with Patrick Kurunwune bursting up the middle from 14 yards out. Nick Maggio's kick makes it 7-0 at the 12:33 mark.
The Eagles are three-and-out on their first possession, and Duke takes it down the field again. This time the Blue Devils go 64 yards in four plays, with Scott scoring on a 23-yard run and Maggio adding the boot for a 14-0 lead at 8:42.
And Duke scores again on its next possession, going 61 yards on 12 plays with Thaddeus Lewis hitting Donovan Varner from 18 yards out and Maggio converting again at 3:19.
The Eagles finally get on the board on their next possession. Tim Shankle scores from two yards out with 1:27 left in the quarter to complete a six-play, 70 yard drive with Frankie Cardelle on the conversion to make it 21-7. The big play of the drive comes from two more Hillside alumni, as Michael Johnson hits Geo Irvine for a 55-yard gain to the Duke 15.
Duke is moving the ball easily on its fourth possession when the Blue Devils have two bad things happen in quick succession. First, the senior Lewis is hurt. And on the next play freshman Sean Renfree - who has played solidly in his previous appearances - is hurried by Teryl White and throws the ball right to the Eagles' Jeffery Henderson, who returns the ball 83 yards to the end zone. Cardelle adds the boot and it's 21-14 with 13:33 left in the half.
The Blue Devils finish the first-half scoring in the closing seconds, as Lewis hits Varner from 14 yards out - with the receiver eluding a couple of tacklers at the 6 - to finish a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Maggio makes it 28-14 with 33 seconds remaining before intermission.
The Eagles can't get much going on their first possession of the second half, and after Johnny Williams returns a punt 48 yards to the NCCU 21 the Devils are in business again. Lewis takes it in from the 5, and Maggio's try stretches the lead to 35-14 with 10:06 remaining in the third.
Duke gets the killer with 4:08 left in the third. Matt Daniels levels NCCU punt returner Phillip Barren at the 16 and Vincent Rey takes it in for a 42-14 lead after Maggio's conversion.
And it goes to 49-14 with four seconds gone in the fourth, as Renfree hits Brett Huffman on a three-yard pass with Maggio hitting his seventh point.
They said it ...
Duke coach David Cutcliffe: "I told them at halftime that we hadn't out-hit anybody, hadn't out-run anybody and hadn't out-kicked anybody and hadn't out-fought anybody and that was the truth. The second half, I saw more of what we're looking for. ... I knew (Scott) was ready. And he's got a lot to learn and a long way to go, but he's got a lot of quickness, capability and strength. He's got a lot of confidence and that's a good thing, but sometimes we have to harness a little bit of that."
NCCU coach Mose Rison: "It was a very historic night. It was a tremendous feeling to have an opportunity to be a part of something so special. A lot of hard work went into getting this opportunity for both schools to play this game. Our guys went out and played hard tonight. Give Coach Cutcliffe credit. He got his guys ready to play tonight and sometimes these games are tough because they could easily have overlooked us and they didn't."
Lewis: "Those (NCCU) guys came out and played great. That's the type of intensity you want to see out of a team, to come out there and not back down. Fortunately, we put it together and stepped up in the second half. Hats off to the N.C. Central program. They played their hearts out."
Henderson: "Before we stepped out on the field we were talking about a big play, a big turnover. We hadn't put up a defensive touchdown all season. We knew we could do that and do something to maybe help us win. ... I was pretty excited (about the TD). It basically put us right back in the game. It gave us a little bit of a spark."
What does it all mean?
That Duke got a much-needed victory, that NCCU got experience playing against a Football Bowl Subdivision - one of which they're planning to play every year from now on - and that Durham got a great show despite the weather.
Stars of the game
1. Scott, with the first 100-yard game by a Duke freshman since Re'quan Boyette did it against Florida State in '05.
2. Lewis, with 17-for-25 passing in the rain for 189 yards.
3. Henderson, with a game-high 10 tackles to go along with the 83-yard return.
Play of the game
Rey's fumble recovery for the touchdown.
Duke leads 1-0.
Duke: Won 1
NCCU: Lost 4
Virginia Tech at Duke, Oct.3, noon
NCCU at North Carolina A&T, Oct. 3, 6 p.m.