Harris accounts for 5 TDs as Duke rolls to victory
Harris passed for a career-high 345 yards and four touchdowns, three to freshmen, to lead Duke past North Carolina A&T 45-13 on Saturday night.
Harris also rushed for 83 yards and a score as the Blue Devils (1-1) overcame a sluggish start to win their home opener for the eighth consecutive season.
"Whenever you get a chance to play well in a game setting, it's a good confidence boost," Harris said. "I think it shows you what our offense is capable of when we're playing to the best of our abilities."
Duke scored three touchdowns in the final 3:10 of the first half, turning a 10-7 deficit into a 28-10 lead.
Harris had scoring strikes of 22 yards and 39 yards to Mateo Durant and Eli Pancol, respectively, and capped the spurt with a 6-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw.
Jalon Calhoun had eight catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns for the Blue Devils.
Calhoun and Pancol are freshmen who have quickly established a rapport with Harris, a fifth-year senior who was a backup behind NFL first-round draft pick Daniel Jones until this season.
"It's becoming more and more his team," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "They trust him, and he trusts them."
Jeremiah Martin rushed for 82 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown, for N.C. A&T (1-1).
Noel Ruiz made field goals of 40 and 36 yards for the Aggies.
N.C. A&T: It's no fluke that the Aggies, reigning champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, beat a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent each year from 2016-18. They were stout on defense and opportunistic on offense until Duke's flurry at the end of the first half, indicating that they can be a force again in the Football Championship Subdivision. "That was the whole ballgame," N.C. A&T coach Sam Washington said about Duke's run. "That put everything in their possession. It gave them life, it gave them hope, and they capitalized on it."
Duke: The Blue Devils had four penalties for 49 yards, plus another holding penalty that was declined, in the game's first 18 minutes. It's the kind of start they can't afford in Atlantic Coast Conference play. But Duke settled down as Harris found his footing. Harris completed 10 of his final 11 passes of the first half, capitalizing on a variety of short throws.
After Duke took a 14-10 lead, N.C. A&T wide receiver Elijah Bell caught a pass for what was going to be a first down. But Duke's Leonard Johnson stripped the ball, and safety Dylan Singleton recovered it. Harris found Pancol behind the Aggies' defense on the next play, giving the Blue Devils two touchdowns in 14 seconds.
Martin raced untouched up the middle for the Aggies on his long scoring run with 11:20 left in the second quarter, sprinting past an attempt at a diving tackle by Duke's Victor Dimukeje at the line of scrimmage. But the Blue Devils tightened after that, holding N.C. A&T without a first down for the rest of the half. "I guess that kind of triggered us," Singleton said.
Duke has experienced both ends of the spectrum through two weeks, losing 42-3 as a big underdog against No. 2 Alabama before winning handily as a heavy favorite against N.C. A&T. The Blue Devils took their early setback in stride.
"We know our football team," linebacker Koby Quansah said. "The world may not believe in us sometimes, but we believe in ourselves. We've just got to go out there and do what we do."
AJ Reed made a career-long 50-yard field goal midway through the third quarter to give Duke a 31-10 lead. It was Duke's first field goal of 50 or more yards since 2015.
N.C. A&T: The Aggies visit Charleston Southern on Sept. 14.
Duke: The Blue Devils play at Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 14.