WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM It’s my first college football game for Triangle Offense, the house is almost full, and it’s a perfect night for any outdoor sport.
Duke, which went 4-8 last season, is bringing in defending NCAA Division I (Championship Subdivision) champ Richmond, which is on a nine-game winning streak.
The first time I actually covered a college football game for a “daily” paper was here back during the 1980 season for the South Boston (Va.) News & Record, on a late October day when Wake Forest beat the Blue Devils 27-24. I was so unfamiliar with Durham I actually checked out County Stadium for about five minutes before figuring out it couldn’t be Wallace Wade.
Anyway, Duke quarterback Ben Bennett and Wake’s Jay Venuto combined for about a kilometer in passing yardage that day. The press was crammed into a little box atop the North end zone while the state-of-the-art DUPAC building was under construction, and I remember the inimitable Blue Devils coach Shirley “Red” Wilson apologizing for the rough working conditions for the media.
By way of disclaimer I’ve been watching Spider football on and off for a long time. Although I eventually went to archrival William & Mary, I saw a number of home games at quirky 22,000-seat City Stadium – now University of Richmond Stadium – in the early 70s. The Spiders actually paid guarantees to N.C. State and UNC in back-to-back seasons in ’70 and ’71, beating the Wolfpack 21-6 and then losing to a very good Tar Heel team 28-0 the next year. I remember the best seats in the house costing a whopping $6. Next season Richmond will move into an 8,000-seat facility on its pastoral suburban campus.
But back to the 21st Century, where Duke has a big spread of fried chicken and barbecue and hush puppies and all out and a packed press box. In the house I am one of no fewer than three former full-time sports writers from The Incredible Shrinking Herald-Sun.
I’m working tonight not only for The Indy but also The Winston-Salem Journal and a new website called Virginia Sports Now.
Richmond ends up winning 24-16 after leading 24-9 with just a few minutes to play, in front of a crowd of 33,011 that comes within a few hundred of actually filling every seat.
Both punt teams are out of whack in the first quarter, and this is where Duke gets started on the wrong foot. The Blue Devils have 350 yards passing but only 19 on the ground, and the Spiders are almost even at 125 rush and 157 pass.
The Spiders get their first points at 8:45 of the first, when Jonathan Mayfield scoops up a punt blocked by teammate Tyler Kirchoff at the Duke 4 and takes it into the end zone. Andrew Howard’s boot makes it 7-0.
Duke cuts it to 7-2 at 4:56 when the Spiders’ Colin Pehanick snaps the ball out of the end zone.
Richmond stretches the lead to 14 with 6:56 left in the second, as Justin Forte bulls in from two yards out to finish a 13-play, 60-yard march and Howard adds the kick.
But the Blue Devils get it back on their next series when Thaddeus Lewis finds Johnny Williams behind the defense down the right sideline for a 54-yard bomb.
Richmond puts it away in the fourth quarter, on Kirchoff’s 1-yard run that completes a 12-play, 83-yard march with 9:39 to go.
And Howard’s 45-yard field goal makes it 24-9 with 4:16 left.
Duke is good in a hurry-up offense, as Lewis finds Austin Kelly for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 2:13 to go.
But the Spiders cover the onside kick and escape with the opening-game win.
They said it …
Duke coach David Cutcliffe: “I don’t think we competed, and the way you compete in football is with emotion and energy – but it’s also with execution and our execution on offense, our execution in the kicking game and in times on defense wasn’t what we expected it to be.”
Richmond coach Mike London: “(Our) effort was tremendous. The effort was such that it looked like, I thought, in the third and fourth quarter that we were in better shape than they were.”
Lewis: “(Richmond) was a veteran group, and obviously they’ve been playing together. They came out and played hard. They played harder than us, and that’s why they came out with the victory.
“We just have to learn from this. We can’t make the same mistakes next week. We just have to get ready for Army.”
What does it all mean?
That Richmond is as good as advertised, while the Blue Devils may need to win seven games to be bowl-eligible.
Stars of the game
1. Kirchoff, for his blocked punt and the touchdown.
2. Lewis, for throwing 55 passes and completing 34 without an interception.
3. Ward, for his 169 yards total offense and running a mistake-free contest.
Play of the game
The blocked punt on Duke’s first series that puts the Blue Devils behind to stay.
Duke leads 9-3.
Duke: Lost 6.
Richmond: Won 10.
Duke at Army, Sept. 12, noon
Richmond at Delaware, Sept. 12, 3:30 p.m.