The weather was a big challenge for everyone in the house, and the game turned into a blowout in the fourth quarter.
Still, the first “Bull City Gridiron Classic” on Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium was an unqualified success.
On the field, Duke whipped N.C. Central 49-14 in the schools’ first-ever meeting on the football field. Yes, the score showed that David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils – who have been playing at the top level of college football ever since just after World War I while the Eagles are still in transition from Division II to Division I (Championship Subdivision) – were the superior team in the game, they were clearly supposed to be.
It’s just part of the reality of college football that Division I (Bowl Subdivision) squads are going to host FCS teams and almost always be favored. But while Mose Rison’s Eagles didn’t come close to an upset victory, they were far from being humiliated.
When Jeffery Henderson returned an interception 83 yards for an NCCU touchdown to make it 21-14 after Duke had begun the contest with three easy scoring drives, the crowd of over 26,000 could see there was a real football game in progress.
Everyone will move on now, as both teams have huge games on Saturday.
Duke (2-2) will host ACC favorite No. 6 Virginia Tech at noon at Wallace Wade, the Blue Devils knowing their task is to win five of their final eight games to realize their long-shot dreams of receiving a bowl bid.
And NCCU (0-4) will try to get something going in a 6 p.m. trip to historic archrival North Carolina A&T (2-2), a contest that in many previous years had been by far the most talked-about on the Eagles’ schedule. This season, it’s sandwiched between trips to Duke and FCS national power Appalachian State, a killer three-week run for NCCU which is exactly the type of schedule the Eagles need to play if they’re going to begin the same kind of run at the top of the national rankings they made a few years ago in Division II.
For Bull City natives and newer residents, one of the most enjoyable things about the game was probably the prowess of the Durhamites on the field.
Hillside alumnus Desmond Scott had a 100-yard game the first time he ever appeared in a Duke uniform, while senior defensive tackle and Jordan High alum Kinney Rucker – who earlier looked as if he might lose his season due to injuries – was solid in the Blue Devils’ defense. Corey Gattis, a Blue Devil wide receiver out of Hillside, is a redshirt freshman and waiting in the wings.
For the Eagles, Hillside alum Michael Johnson started at quarterback and hit fellow Hornet alum Geo Irvine on a 55-yard pass to set up the first touchdown. Two Southern High alumni – fullback and co-captain Saeed Abdul-Azeez and defensive back James Reese – were also key parts of the action.
Add in cadres of Triangle products currently playing football at UNC and N.C. State and the point is made – not only is there no reason a local teenager has to leave the area to get a great education, but there’s plenty of room for a top-notch athlete to play some very good college football just minutes from home.
Any thoughts of a worst-case scenario around the game itself didn’t materialize. Since at least for a half it was very competitive, Durham football fans ought to be licking their chops at the prospect of future meetings that will almost certainly occur down the road.
And any lingering rancor around the city about negativity from the past – most recently the false accusations of rape against some Duke lacrosse players that split the city in half for about a week a few years ago – were certainly not in evidence on Saturday night.
Evidence would be the smiles on the faces of the student leaders who shared in the coin toss, the warm post-game handshakes and all the glowing comments from coaches and players about each other’s programs in the post-game media scrums.
Durham may not be perfect, but after the week-long celebration of the universities that are of the city’s greatest assets ended late Saturday night, it’s very, very obvious that the city is at least OK.