Durham’s remarkable sports autumn

Nov. 21, 2013 @ 07:08 PM

We realize there is no shortage of mayhem and grim news floating around these days, and we know that by tradition and reputation that’s probably what this page should be talking about.

But we want to revel for a few moments.

This has been an upside-down, topsy-turvy autumn for sports in Durham.

The most recent reason to celebrate here came Wednesday night, when N. C. Central University, still quite new to playing basketball at the top Division 1 level of college sport, upset N. C. State University.

The Eagles, who gave up a three-pointer to NCSU that tied the game with 11 seconds left in regulation, soared through overtime to an 82-72 victory. It was NCCU’s first victory in 14 games against ACC opponents.

And it capped a tough autumn for the Wolfpack against Durham schools.  In another upset, in another sport, Duke University beat NCSU convincingly in football 38-20 two weeks ago.  That game included a dizzying 21 points in 26 seconds late in the game by the Blue Devils. With an upset of Miami this past Saturday, Duke vaulted into the top 25 football teams in the country for the first time since the youngest members of the team were in diapers.

If Duke wins once more – and it has two regular season games, a possible ACC championship contest and a certain bowl game ahead – it will record its first nine-win season since 1941.

This, from a team that just a few years ago – from 2005 to 2007 – went three seasons with only two wins against 33 losses. Duke’s determination to bring its football program back to respectability has clearly succeeded.

Against that backdrop, while Duke’s signing four top-rated high school basketball players – two of them considered among the top recruits in the country – it didn’t overshadow the football program nearly as much as it would have in those dismal recent years.

But it certainly was big news in Iron Duke land, and capped a remarkable week of good news for Duke fans.

For NCCU fans, the triumph over N. C. State was an especially huge boost to the program.  Coach LeVelle Moton spoke to why after the game.

“Ever since we made this transition (to Division 1), we’ve been fighting for respect, and it’s really tough on Tobacco Road, in our own back yard, to not be mentioned with the big boys – Duke and Carolina and N. C. State.

“Every low-major program, every HBCU, hopefully, they can look at this and feel inspired.”

That they should – and NCCU has taken a leap toward being “mentioned with the big boys.”

And at Duke, the 32,000 that nearly filled Wallace Wade stadium may become just a normal Saturday afternoon crowd.