Eagles aim to avoid another slow start at Duke
N.C. Central is fast and athletic, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
Duke is beefy and deep, NCCU interim coach Dwayne Foster said, anticipating Saturday’s 4 p.m. meeting in the Bull City Gridiron Classic at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Both teams are Division I schools, but Duke plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision, a level higher than the Football Championship Subdivision where NCCU competes.
But make no mistake, Foster said, NCCU’s coaches have not talked about merely keeping the game close.
“No moral victories here,” Foster said Tuesday during a news conference at Café Renaissance, near NCCU. “Why have the goal of getting close? (I) never believed in moral victories.”
NCCU and Duke have met on the football field two other times, and the Blue Devils torched the Eagles on both occasions.
Duke beat NCCU 49-14 in 2009, but the Blue Devils’ win a year ago produced a lopsided 54-17 score that seemed to be contradicted by the total offense accumulated by both teams. Duke piled up 408 yards, while NCCU trailed by only 71 yards.
“I don’t think we ever had them right where we wanted them,” Cutcliffe said. “As the game progressed, they found a way to move the football, and certainly we all know they were formidable up front defensively, so nothing was really easy.”
NCCU quarterback Jordan Reid came off the bench in the first quarter against Duke and finished the game with a career-high 218 passing yards, and he kept finding wide receiver Marvin Poole, who had six catches for 83 yards, both career highs.
Reid will be back under center this weekend, with Poole still split out wide.
On the other side of the ball, NCCU no longer has nose guard John Drew plugging the middle and defensive end Xavier Proctor on the edge. Both of those guys are trying to secure spots in the National Football League with the Detroit Lions.
Cutcliffe said the Eagles have rebuilt their defensive line, adding to his case of nerves. He said he hopes his players have some butterflies in their stomachs, too, because the Eagles can play.
“We can’t afford to overlook anybody,” Cutcliffe said.
The Eagles aren’t underestimating themselves.
NCCU started slowly a year ago against Duke, failing to get a first down on its first three possessions, going backward with minus-4 yards in nine plays.
NCCU’s Matthew Cornelius, punting from the Eagles’ 5-yard line, kicked a beautiful ball that Duke’s Lee Butler fielded on the Blue Devils’ 35. Butler initially got away from three Eagles before eluding the rest of the team and scoring 65 yards later, deflating the visitors, Foster said.
Later in the first quarter, NCCU running back Andre Clarke plunged for a 1-yard touchdown, and Reid did the same in the fourth quarter. But in between, the Eagles proved that they belonged on the same field with Duke, Foster said.
NCCU senior linebacker Tazmon Foster (5-10, 215) is not trying to get around the fact that the Eagles are underdogs against Duke.
“I know I’m an undersized linebacker, but I’ve got a lot of heart,” Foster said. “I’m not scared to go against nobody.”
NCCU redshirt-senior offensive lineman Charles Goodwin (6-6, 305) said the Blue Devils don’t scare him.
“We plan on going into Duke and taking one away from them, and plan on setting the tone for the season,” Goodwin said.