WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon matched the Atlantic Coast Conference record for career receptions at 232 as the Blue Devils defeated Wake Forest, 34-27, in front of a crowd of 28,743 spectators on a rainy Saturday afternoon at BB&T Field.
Duke improves to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the ACC while Wake Forest falls to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the ACC. Duke’s 4-1 start is the program’s best since 1994 when the Blue Devils started the season 5-0.
Duke entered the fourth quarter tied 20-20, but took the lead on a four-yard touchdown by quarterback Anthony Boone. Freshman running back Jela Duncan added a 17-yard touchdown run with 2:50 remaining to seal the victory.
The Blue Devils rushed for 123 yards and scored four times on the ground with quarterbacks Boone and Brandon Connette combining for three rushing scores. Duncan ran for 56 yards on 11 carries, including 30 yards in the fourth quarter.
Wide receiver Desmond Scott set career highs with 11 receptions for 134 yards and converted a pair of long third downs with catches of 35 yards and 23 yards. Vernon finished with five receptions for 62 yards to tie the all-time ACC record. Vernon also moved into fourth place on the ACC’s all-time receiving yards list, moving past NC State’s Jerricho Cotchery with 3,317 career receiving yards.
Duke forced four turnovers, including twice in the fourth quarter. With the score tied at 20-20, defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo knocked the ball loose from Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price deep in Wake Forest territory to set up Boone’s go-ahead 4-yard touchdown run. Duke linebacker CJ France also made a diving interception with 5:59 remaining in the game and Duke leading 27-20.
Duke and Wake Forest traded scores on three consecutive drives in the first quarter as Duke took a 10-7 lead. Ross Martin put Duke on the board with a 35-yard field goal on Duke’s first drive of the game, but Wake Forest responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown run by Deandre Martin. The Blue Devils then got a two-yard rushing score by Connette on a drive that included Scott’s 35-yard reception on 3rd-and-27.
Kyler Brown forced a Wake Forest fumble early in the second quarter, and Martin converted the turnover into a 22-yard field goal that put Duke ahead 13-7 with 10:20 remaining in the first half. Wake Forest kicker Jimmy Newman kicked a 45-yard field goal on the Deacs’ next drive to cut the lead back to three points at 13-10.
Wake Forest attempted a long pass on the final play of the first half, but Duke redshirt senior Jordon Byas caught his first career interception to end the drive and send Duke into the locker room with a 13-10 lead.
Duke went to the running game early in the second half, rushing eight times during a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with Connette’s second touchdown of the day, a four-yard run that put Duke on top 20-10. Quarterback Sean Renfree and Scott hooked up again to convert another long third down on the drive, connecting for a 22-yard reception on 3rd-and-19 to move into Wake Forest territory.
Wake Forest tied the game with scores on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter. Duke punter Will Monday pinned the Deacs on third own 2-yard line in the third quarter, but Wake forest drove the length of the field and scored on a 24-yard pass from Price to Tommy Bohanon to cut Duke’s lead to 20-17. On Duke’s next drive, Wake Forest lineman Zach Thompson intercepted a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage, and the Deacons converted the turnover into a game-tying field goal.
The Blue Devils returned the favor when DeWalt-Ondijo stripped Price of a fumble in Wake Forest territory that Jonathan Woodruff recovered at the Wake Forest 8-yard line. Boone, who entered the game after Renfree left with an upper body injury in the third quarter, ran in the go-ahead touchdown from two yards out.
After the two teams traded punts on the following possessions, Duke safety Walt Canty tipped a Price pass into the hands of France, who collected the first interception of his career to give the ball back to the Blue Devils on the Wake Forest 37-yard line with 5:59 minutes remaining. Duke drove the length of the field with Duncan capping the drive with a 17-yard touchdown run that was the first touchdown of his career.
With Duke leading 34-20 at the 2:50 mark, Wake Forest cut the lead to one score when Price hit Bohanon for his second touchdown of the day. The Demon Deacons then attempted an onside kick, but Vernon recovered the ball to give Duke the victory.