DURHAM, N.C. - Duke senior wide receiver Conner Vernon became the ACC's all-time receptions leader with seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns to lead Duke to a 42-17 victory at Wallace Wade Stadium this afternoon. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Boone, in his first career start, completed 18-of-31 passes for 212 yards and four touchdowns.
Duke improves to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the ACC. The 5-1 mark is the best six-game start to a season since 1994, while the 2-0 conference record is also tops since 1994. The Blue Devils outscored the Cavaliers 28-0 in the second half to remain 4-0 at home in 2012.
Vernon passed Clemson's Aaron Kelly as the career receptions leader with 239 catches. He is now 288 yards shy of breaking the ACC record for career receiving yards held by Florida State's Peter Warrick.
Boone had an outstanding first career start, tying the Duke record for touchdown passes by a quarterback in his first career start, while his 212 yards rank ninth.
Senior Walt Canty headlined Duke's defensive efforts with 14 tackles, including five solo stops and three tackles for loss. Jordon Byas made 11 stops with six solo, while Kenny Anunike had six tackles, including a sack and two tackles for loss. Ross Cockrell registered his eighth career interception and career-best fourth of the year, while redshirt senior Tony Foster pulled in his first career pick to help lead the secondary.
The game got off to a quick start with Virginia and Duke combining for 28 points in the first quarter and putting up 290 yards of combined offense. The Blue Devils scored twice in 2:16 for a 14-7 lead before the Cavaliers responded with 10 unanswered points for a 17-14 halftime advantage.
Virginia opened the contest with an eight-play 83-yard scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead just 3:16 into the game. Bolstered by a pair of long completions from quarterback Phillip Sims to receiver E.J. Scott, Cavalier tailbacks Perry Jones and Kevin Parks combined for 38 yards, including a seven-yard dash by Parks into the end zone, to put Virginia in front early.
The Blue Devils responded immediately with a career-long 54-yard touchdown pass from Boone to Crowder to even the score. Boone started Duke's opening drive with a 14-yard rush to the Blue Devil 39-yard line. Juwan Thompson picked up seven more yards to move Duke closer to midfield and set up the long strike to Crowder. Boone found a wide-open Crowder at the Virginia 20. The sophomore receiver eluded a pair of Virginia tacklers and found the end zone for his fourth career touchdown reception.
The Duke defense came up with its first big play of the afternoon on the next Virginia possession as Foster intercepted Sims at the 40-yard line. Three plays and 37 yards later, the Blue Devils were in the end zone again for a 14-7 lead. After breaking the ACC all-time record for career receptions with the second play of the drive, Vernon capped the series with a 37-yard reception in the left corner of the end zone for the seven-point lead with 8:09 left in the first quarter.
With Duke scoring consecutive touchdowns in just 2:16, Virginia answered with the longest drive of the afternoon, shaving over seven minutes off the clock to even the score at 14. Sims completed the balanced 15-play series with a 12-yard pass to Paul Freedman to close the first quarter.
After combining for 28 points and 290 yards of offense in the opening 15 minutes, the scoring pace slowed in the second quarter. Duke and Virginia put up just 154 yards of offense through the first 14:34 of the stanza. The Cavaliers, however, capitalized on the final 26 seconds and used consecutive long plays to end the half with a 39-yard field goal and a 17-14 halftime lead.
The Blue Devils' defense was the story of the second half as they held Virginia to 140 yards of offense and without a score, after allowing 321 yards of offense in the first half.
Duke's defense helped the Blue Devils end their 26:23 scoring drought, forcing the Cavaliers to punt from the back of the end zone. A 31-yard punt return by Vernon with a 10-yard penalty tacked on the end of the run landed Duke at the 12-yard line. One play and six seconds later, junior running back Juwan Thompson put the Blue Devils in front with a 12-yard scamper into the end zone.
Aided by the outstanding defensive efforts, the quick-striking Duke offense took advantage of another short field by going 45 yards in four plays for a 28-17 lead at 7:30 in the third quarter. Running for 30 of the 45 yards in the drive, Jela Duncan completed the drive with an 11-yard dash up the middle to become the fourth Blue Devil of the afternoon to find the end zone.
Vernon and Boone connected for the second time of the afternoon with a 45-yard strike between two Cavaliers for a 35-17 lead with 14:01 left to play. The two-touchdown performance for Vernon was the fourth of his career and the second of the campaign.
With 2:48 left in regulation, Duke finalized the 42-17 score with a 34-yard run up the middle from Thompson for his second touchdown of the game and eight rushing touchdown of his career.
Duke travels to Virginia Tech next, taking on the Hokies at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at Lane Stadium. The game will be televised live by the ACC Network.