DURHAM Thaddeus Lewis threw two touchdown passes to Eron Riley, and Duke beat James Madison 31-7 Saturday night to give David Cutcliffe a victory in his coaching debut with the Blue Devils.
Lewis completed 17-of-28 passes for 141 yards with touchdowns covering 7 and 20 yards to Riley for the Blue Devils, who shook off a pregame weather delay and scored on four straight possessions to secure their first season-opening victory since beating East Carolina in 2002.
Clifford Harris added two 1-yard scoring runs for Duke, which snapped a nine-game losing streak with its most lopsided victory since a 40-14 rout of VMI in 2005. The Blue Devils had lost 31 of the 32 games that followed that victory.
Rodney Landers rushed for 96 yards and had a nifty 47-yard touchdown run for the Championship Subdivision's Dukes (0-1). But he was just 4-of-9 passing for 51 yards, and allowed Duke to take control by turning it over on James Madison's first two possessions of the second half.
First, he fluttered a pass deep in Duke territory and it was intercepted by Jabari Marshall, whose 67-yard return to the Dukes' 22 set up Harris' second touchdown six plays later that put the Blue Devils up 21-7.
Landers then opened the Dukes' next drive by fumbling away a keeper, Greg Akinbiyi recovered at the 34 and six plays later Lewis found Riley in the end zone from 20 yards out to give Duke a three-touchdown lead.
Lewis put the Blue Devils ahead to stay with 5 seconds before halftime, hitting Riley with a 7-yard scoring pass to make it 14-7.
Riley finished with seven catches for 67 yards to help Cutcliffe become the first coach to win his Duke debut since Fred Goldsmith opened the 1994 season with a victory over Maryland.
Even Duke's historically horrendous special teams got into the scoring act. Nick Maggio kicked a 27-yard field goal for the Blue Devils, whose kickers were a combined 3-of-11 on field-goal attempts during the 1-11 season that cost Ted Roof his job.
Nearly everything clicked for Duke under Cutcliffe, the former Mississippi coach whose December hiring reinvigorated a laughingstock program that had lingered at the bottom of the bowl subdivision for nearly two decades.
The start of the Cutcliffe era was delayed 1 hour, 27 minutes by lightning, but Duke's offensive performance wound up being worth the wait.
MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH
Duke officials were a bit surprised when, at 6 p.m. Saturday, about an hour before the scheduled kickoff, two men parachuted into the Wallace Wade Stadium and landed at the 35-yard line with a game ball.
Problem was, the Blue Devils — who were warming up along with opponent James Madison — weren't expecting it.
“All we know is, they must have missed their jump site,” a team official said.
And they did — because the jump site was meant to be eight miles away.
North Carolina was scheduled to receive its game ball via aerial team at about that time in Chapel Hill. According to UNC assistant athletics director for promotions Michael Beale, the plane was in the air, but the jumpers from Virginia-based Aerial Adventures opted to cancel the leap into Kenan Stadium because of a bad weather front — which eventually delayed both games.
Evidently, when the clouds eventually opened, the pilot thought they were over the correct stadium, and the skydivers jumped — only realizing when they landed that they were in the wrong place.
The two men immediately scrambled off the field with the game ball. When UNC associate athletics director Rick Steinbacher was informed by a reporter of what had happened, he immediately called Duke officials to confirm the miscue, and offer his apologies.
“In about five years, maybe this will be funny,” Steinbacher said.
“Right now, I'm just glad no one was hurt.”
Robbi Pickeral and A.J. Carr