DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Duke is getting a rare second chance at being 4-0, and the Blue Devils plan to take advantage of it.
Quentin Harris passed for 202 yards and three touchdowns before leaving with an injury as Duke beat North Carolina Central 55-13 on Saturday.
Brittain Brown rushed for 118 yards and a score and added a 44-yard touchdown catch to help the Blue Devils start 4-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1952-53.
Duke lost its next six games after the hot start in 2017, having to rally in November to earn a bowl berth.
“We don’t want a repeat of last year,” Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “That hurt. We had to dig ourselves out of a grave we shouldn’t have been in.”
Duke scored touchdowns on its first three possessions and piled up 628 total yards, improving to 7-0 against its city rival from the Football Championship Subdivision.
Harris, who also ran for a score in his second career start in place of injured Daniel Jones, hurt his left leg with Duke leading 34-13 early in the third quarter. N.C. Central’s Randy Anyanwu rolled into Harris’ front leg as Harris delivered a pass, and Harris limped off the field after receiving medical attention. Harris rode an exercise bike and stood with his teammates on the sideline but did not return to the game.
“I just kind of got rolled up on,” Harris said. “I felt a little something there, but I’m good to go. Everything checked out fine.”
Brown had departed two plays earlier with an injured left arm and did not return. Duke coach David Cutcliffe said that Brown was cleared to return but that he held out the running back as a precaution.
Isaiah Totten rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown for N.C. Central (1-2). Totten, who had a 59-yard run in the first quarter, missed the second half with an injured left shoulder.
The Eagles finished 1 of 14 on third down and had just 8 total yards and one first down in the second half.
N.C. Central: The Eagles were full of fight, if not flight, for a half. They trailed 20-13 late in the second quarter after falling behind 20-0 in the game’s first nine minutes. “I know right now in my heart, I’m really proud and I’m pleased that we played a good half of football against a solid football team,” N.C. Central coach Granville Eastman said.
Duke: The Blue Devils got off to a fast start before getting sloppy in the second quarter. Part of the problem was uneven play from Harris, who misfired on several passes to open receivers. Jones is trying to return ahead of schedule from his broken clavicle, but Harris and third-stringer Chris Katrenick will be challenged in the meantime as Duke’s schedule gets more difficult.
The Blue Devils entered the weekend just outside the Top 25, but they would welcome a spot in the rankings. “Absolutely,” said tight end Davis Koppenhaver, who had two catches, both for touchdowns. “Just being recognized would be awesome.”
TRICK FOR TREAT
Duke’s Jack Driggers recovered his own onside kick after Duke scored a touchdown on the game’s first possession, helping the Blue Devils take a 13-0 lead before the Eagles ran an offensive play. N.C. Central had just four players on the front line of its kickoff return team and none in the middle of the field, which Cutcliffe noticed in his pregame preparation. “It was just an alignment issue, and so I was going to do it,” he said.
NOT PERFECT THIS TIME
A week after beating Baylor without turning over the ball, committing a penalty or allowing a sack, Duke made its share of mistakes. The Eagles capitalized for their first two touchdowns. Totten scored after a Duke penalty turned an N.C. Central punt into a first down, and Jordan McRae returned a fumbled snap by Harris 55 yards for a touchdown.
N.C. Central: The Eagles host Florida A&M in their Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener.
Duke: The Blue Devils host Virginia Tech in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener.