DURHAM Duke waited nearly nine months for freshly hired David Cutcliffe to finally coach a game and way longer than that to feel like a winner. Compared to that, a few extra minutes in the locker room were no big deal.
The Blue Devils gave Cutcliffe an encouraging victory in his debut at the school Saturday night, beating James Madison 31-7 behind two touchdown passes from Thaddeus Lewis to Eron Riley.
“Everybody was so hungry after all that we had been through this past summer and the winter, that it wasn't a matter of us staying focused,” defensive end Greg Akinbiyi said. “It was a matter of us just going out there and doing what we do.”
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 of nearly 90 minutes 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.
“I told them, ‘Let's save (tearing down) the goal posts for later on down the road,'” Cutcliffe said. “I want it to become a habit to believe in winning at Duke. … I am sure they are going to come have some fun somewhere down the line.”
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 his team's first two possessions of the second half.
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.
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