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Renfree and Wright lead Duke in late surge to beat Army, 35-19
West Point - Army (1-1) maintained 10-7 lead over the Duke Blue Devils (1-1) midway through the third period. After two series of three and out and recovering an Army fumble at the 19, Duke Coach David Cutcliffe decided to replace starting QB Thaddeus Lewis (5 for 16, 60 yards) with redshirt freshman Sean Renfree who responded on his second play with a 17-yard scoring pass to TE Brett Huffman, for 14-10 Duke lead. Army Head Coach Rich Ellerson, oblivious to any form of passing for most of the game, tried to make up for it late in the game, but his move backfired as replacement QB Carson Williams threw two interceptions returned by CB Leon Wright for touchdowns within the last 1:48 of the game. Our group of 20 fans sat under overcast skies all afternoon and appreciated that we weren't sitting in rain as it did all day back at home in NJ. On the other hand, we were very disappointed that Ellerson could not come up with some form of passing to complement his triple option offense that started off strong, but couldn't be sustained. We wondered aloud if we could see Army use 6'10" wide-out Ali Villanueva effectively, but they didn't until it was too little, too late as we left to catch our bus back to the tailgate after the Blue Devils had notched a definitive "W" with less than two minutes left in the game.
After Duke took the lead in the third, Army started its next drive with what we had waited for all day, a pass from QB Trent Steelman to Villanueva for a 20-yard gain. It was late as far as our group was concerned. Bart, Bruce, I and others looked for Steelman to throw the fade pass to his big WR with the ball at the Duke eight in the final minute of the first half. Instead, the option was halted once again and Alex Carlton's FG attempt hit the upright and fell to the ground to maintain a slim 10-7 lead at Intermission. On this drive, Steelman completed no more passes to Villanueva nor any other receiver, but the Black Knights got to the 14 where Carlton's FG went through to narrow the Duke lead, 14-13. We looked forward to seeing the Army defense hold their own, but wondered if Army's offense could muster any further comeback as its option play had been figured out and its passing game was non-existent.
Duke retaliated early in the fourth when Renfree (7of 8 for 106 yards, 2 TDs) directed his team 78 yards on 9 plays with a 31-yard TD pass to Donovan Varner to extend the lead, 21-13. We knew Steelman would not be asked to bring the Cadets back based on his 2 of 6 performance for 28 yards. After two more drives coming up with no scores and eating up over ten minutes of clock, reserve Carson Williams was brought in, and we waited to see if this better arm could effectively come off the bench to put Army back in the game. It didn't take long to come up with a resounding "no". With 1:48 remaining on a fourth and ten from his own 36, Williams' pass deflected off several players in a tight bunch and CB Len Wright plucked it from the air to return it 51 yards for a Blue Devil TD and a 28-13 lead. With Army's grind it out option game or its inept passing offense, the game was regretfully over. With most of the crowd of 25,698 already headed to the buses for points elsewhere on campus, we joined the shuffle out of Michie Stadium. As we reached Gate 3, the roar of the remaining Duke fans, admittedly waiting for basketball season, told us of another Duke score. Wright picked off Williams' next pass and returned this one for a 33-yard TD. At 35-13, we knew the Blue Devils were going home with a win. What we didn't expect with 12:32 remaining was that the Cadets would score a TD with no time on the clock. Regretfully, we left earlier than usual anxious to get back to do a little tailgating before heading back home after a disappointing performance by Army. What was most disappointing, they did it with what we had waited for all day! The drive included three passes to Villanueva for 48 yards in total, with the final play ending up in his hands for the 8-yard TD play to end the scoring as time expired, 35-19. We hope that when we see the Cadets host Tulane on October 3, that Ellerson will figure a way to balance a passing attack with his triple-option offense. A 6'10" WR seems like a unique weapon. We hope Army will learn how to use him.
Extra points: Army scored the first time it had the ball on a two-yard run by Steelman. The 8-yard drive featured a 55-yard run by Patrick Mealy who finished with 99 yards on the day. Army outgained Duke on the ground 291 to 66, but aside from the opening drive, could not break the plane of the end zone. Duke outgained Army through the air 166 to 119 though most yards for each team were earned late in the game. The most significant figure for the final score were Wright's 84 return yards!
Army put pressure consistently on Thaddeus Lewis who threw for 350 yards the week before against Richmond. He took some hits and hurried his throws to make him ineffective through three quarters of play.
The overcast skies cancelled the pre-game skydiving presentation of the football.
At halftime, Army inducted nine new members into its Athletic Hall of Fame. Getting the loudest cheers were Mike Krzyzewski, current Duke and Gold Medal Olympic basketball coach, and Bill Carpenter, Army's famous "Lonely End". Carpenter was also inducted for his play in lacrosse. Several inductees were cited for more than one sport - Ralph Chesnauskas for football and hockey; Tracy Hanlon for women's basketball and track and field; Ray Murphy, former AD, for football, basketball, and lacrosse; and Thomas Truxton, for soccer and lacrosse. A member of the class of "37, Truxton was killed in action in WWII and represented at the halftime ceremony by two great-grandsons.
Even the women in our tailgate party had something to say about the Army offense. Pauline, who admits to not know a lot about football, watched the triple option enough times by the Army offense and said, " Army needs to run another play." She also wondered aloud why one female Army cheerleader in the end zone wasn't paired up with one male Army cheerleader along the sideline. Everyone else had partners. "Don't they like each other?" she asked.
Great snacks, cold beer, and good company in the parking lot. We look forward to our Big Tailgate at the Tulane game on October 3.
Duke travels to #22 Kansas next week. They should bring Coach K along. He's had good success against the Jayhawks. Army hosts 0-2 Ball State, loser to FCS New Hampshire last week, but so did Army last year. BSU is under new HC Stan Parrish, a former Rutgers assistant.