by Mike Potter
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Duke will try to bounce back from its big loss to No. 1 Alabama a week ago, and the opposition today gives David Cutcliffe’s club a good chance to win.
In town on a very hot day are the Black Knights of Army, who come in with a 2-1 mark but will probably be playing their best opponent so far this season today.
Game-time temperature is 93 with plenty of sunshine, and game operations is already ready with free ice water and Gatorade and even air conditioning stations to keep fans from having serious heat problems.
Players on both sides will just have to deal with it between the lines, so figuring out which team is physically tougher will probably go a long way toward determining the winner.
It’s Military Appreciation Day with helicopters and flyovers, and unlike the Crimson Tide last week the West Pointers have brought a small marching band along with about 100 other cadets as spectators. The Cadets always wear uniform patches, and for today’s game they salute the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg.
Duke sophomore quarterback Sean Renfree had his first big success as a collegian at West Point last season, coming off the bench for a banged-up Thaddeus Lewis to complete a 35-19 victory that included some very big plays from the Blue Devils’ defense.
Things don’t go well for the Blue Devils from the outset as Army forces five turnovers to none of its own in a 35-21 win.
Three plays into the opening drive Stephen Anderson sets the tone for the Black Knights, picking off a Renfree toss and returning the ball to the Duke 3. Brian Cobbs scores his first career touchdown for the Black Knights on the next play, and Alex Carlton’s boot makes it 7-0 at 13:51.
Duke gets a break when Sydney Sarmiento blocks Carlton’s field-goal attempt on Army’s next possession.
But on the first play of the next drive Renfree is intercepted again, this time by Donnie Dixon who returns to the Duke 5. Two plays later Trent Steelman goes in from a yard out and Carlton’s boot makes it 14-0 at 5:37.
Duke finally gets something going on its next possession, going 70 yards in eight plays with freshman running quarterback Brandon Connette going around left end for the score from 10 yards out. Will Snyderwine is true and it’s 14-7 with 1:33 left in the first.
But it gets worse for Duke in the second period, as Cobb goes in from four yards out to complete a 10-play, 57-yard march with the boot making it 21-7 with 5:27 left in the half.
And Duke’s third-quarter woes continue. The Cadets make it 28-7 following 12:35 on Steelman’s 35-yard connection to Raymond Maples, and it goes to 35-7 at 6:31 after Steelman’s 31-yard connection with Austin Barr.
The Blue Devils finally get on the board again on the first play of the fourth quarter on Renfree’s 58-yard pass to Conner Vernon with Snyderwine adding the boot.
Renfree hits Brandon Braxton from 21 yards out with 1:41 to go to help cut it to 35-21, but that ends the scoring.
Steelman is solid for the visitors, carrying 18 times for 62 yards and a touchdown and completing four of six passes for 85 yards and two scores.
But Renfree’s day doesn’t go quite so well, as he goes 17 for 30 for 261 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Vernon catches eight passes for 129 yards and the TD.
They said it …
Duke coach David Cutcliffe: “It seems a new set of problems crept in, and offense that turns the ball over and that doesn’t convert on third down. That is the simple part of the story. There are other things that we could work on, but the premise of what we do is that we take care of the ball. … We have come to that point where this team has got to play one game at a time. What I mean by that is we have to practice one day at a time and we have to take it one play at a time, one game at a time, until we are consistently playing good football.”
Army coach Rich Ellerson: “We’re not used to being in a situation where you’ve got somebody by the throat. We got turned into a little bit of a clown act there at the end and we need to make sure we can play people and they know what to do and what is expected. We don’t play on our heels. We play on the edge; we play aggressively. … Our first goal is to win the next game. Regardless of what happened today, we’re going to refocus and go to work.”
Renfree: “The first interception was definitely a bad read and a bad throw. It was difficult. On both interceptions I should have seen a lot better. We didn’t execute and it was all on me. Any time you lose a ballgame it’s a letdown. Obviously it was a real bad start. You can’t expect to have two interceptions like that and win a game.”
Duke defensive end Patrick Egboh: “As a defense we have to get off on third downs. Hats off to Army for converting. We need to rally to the ball and take care of it. I really don’t know what happened today. Our offense wasn’t able to convert and turned over the ball a lot, but our defense wasn’t able to stop them on those crucial third downs.”
What does it all mean?
That Army is halfway to bowl eligibility, while the Blue Devils are going to have to find some more wins quickly to have a good season.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Anderson, with Army’s first interception.
Duke leads 11-10-1.
Duke: Lost 3.
Army: Won 2.
Temple at Army, Oct. 2, noon
Duke at Maryland, Oct. 2, 6 p.m.