DETROIT — A roller-coaster season for Duke‘s football team ended with one last happy thrill ride on Tuesday in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones accounted for 338 total yards, and Duke‘s defense pitched a shutout in the second half to help the Blue Devils to a 36-14 win over Northern Illinois.
Jones completed 27 of 40 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He helped the Blue Devils (7-6) finish the season on a three-game winning streak after they lost six in a row.
There was some doubt after a 21-16 loss at Army on Nov. 11 whether Duke would even make a bowl game, given that defeat put the Blue Devils at 4-6. Four of those losses came by seven points or fewer.
“I felt like these young men cared enough about each other to climb back and accomplish something like this,” Duke coach Dave Cutcliffe said. “It was a really outstanding victory for us today.”
Jones was the biggest reason why, earning MVP honors for the game and in the process showing that Duke should be in good hands for the next two years with him as the main quarterback.
“It was a tough stretch for us,” Jones said. “Army might have been the toughest one. We kept fighting and kept working during that stretch. That’s what helped us finish strong and win the last three. That’s certainly an exciting way to finish.”
Northern Illinois finished the season 8-5.
“We certainly don’t want to minimize Duke in any way shape or form,” Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said. “They’re a good football team and I don’t want to take that away. But I certainly feel like if we had executed, we would have had a chance to have a different outcome. Offensively, you saw us be explosive, and defensively you saw us get some three-and-outs.”
Duke opened the scoring with 6:00 remaining in the first quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jones, who easily scored on a read-option keeper on a fourth-and-goal.
The Blue Devils then took a 14-0 lead with 3:17 left in the first quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by senior running back Shaun Wilson.
The score came three plays after Northern Illinois attempted a fake punt on fourth-and-18 from its own 10-yard line but saw it fail when punter Matt Ference threw an incomplete pass from his own end zone toward the sideline.
“We were trying to get a first down,” Carey said. “The punt before that, we really feel like he mugged our gunner. We felt like if we didn’t get a completion, we would have gotten an interference penalty. We were just trying to get a first down and get something going.”
Northern Illinois cut Duke‘s lead to 14-7 with 14:21 left in the first half on a 25-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Tre Harbison, which came after a 44-yard pass from freshman quarterback Marcus Childers to sophomore wideout Spencer Tears.
Northern Illinois then tied the score at 14 with 12:22 left in the first half on a 67-yard touchdown pass from Childers to junior wideout Jauan Wesley.
After that, it was all Duke, which scored the final 22 points.
Duke regained the lead at 20-14 with 6:09 remaining in the first half on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Jones to junior wideout T.J. Rahming.
The Blue Devils then scored again to take a 26-14 lead with 1:33 left in the first half on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Wilson. A two-point conversion pass failed.
Duke extended the gap to 33-14 with 6:31 left in the third quarter on a 7-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Brittain Brown and then to 36-14 with 7:37 left in the game on a 24-yard field goal by William Holmquist.
Duke outgained Northern Illinois 465-299 yards and had 27 first downs to 13 for Northern Illinois.
Childers completed 15 of 26 passes for 234 yards and touchdown for the Huskies.
NOTES: Duke posted its fourth winning season in last five years. The last time Duke had four winning seasons in a five-year stretch came from 1960-64. … Northern Illinois made its ninth appearance in a bowl game in the last 10 years but now has a five-game losing streak in bowls. …Duke won seven games for the fifth time in 10 seasons under Cutcliffe. Before Cutcliffe’s arrival, Duke hadn’t won seven games in a season since 1994. … Northern Illinois sophomore DE Sutton Smith became just the second consensus All-American in school history. The only other one was LeShon Johnson in 1993. … Duke won consecutive bowl game appearances for the first time since 1945 and 1955. The Blue Devils beat Indiana 44-41 in the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl.