DETROIT (AP) — In mid-November, after a loss at Army, the Duke Blue Devils were looking at spending a second straight holiday season at home.
That made Tuesday’s success in the Quick Lane Bowl even sweeter.
After a six-game losing streak dropped them to 4-6, the Blue Devils (7-6) had to beat Georgia Tech and Wake Forest just to get bowl eligible. They managed that, got a bid to spend Christmas in Detroit, and salvaged the season with a 36-14 win over Northern Illinois.
“People ask me how we came back from 4-6, especially since we don’t have a star player who we could turn to,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I tell them that we have a roster filled with great teammates. They decided they had to work together if we were going to come up with a decent finish.”
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones finished with 338 yards of offense, throwing two touchdown passes while running for a third score, and Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown added rushing touchdowns.
“We knew Northern Illinois had a lot of success rushing the passer this year, but our offensive line really controlled things,” Jones said. “That really opened things up for our offense.
“We were frustrated after losing to Army, but we were finally able to channel that into motivation.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Childers threw for 234 yards and a score for Northern Illinois (8-5), while fellow redshirt freshman Tre Harbison ran for a touchdown.
“Marcus and I know that this offseason is crucial,” Harbison said. “If we work hard, we should have a special backfield next year.”
The Blue Devils took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, sandwiching rushing touchdowns around a failed Northern Illinois fake punt on 4th-and-18 from their own 11.
“They were being physical with our gunners, so we thought we could get a pass interference and a first down,” Huskies coach Rod Carey said. “They didn’t bite, and we had a punter throwing to a defensive back.”
The Huskies had two first downs and 46 yards in the quarter, but tied the game with two scores in the first 2:38 of the second. Duke, though, moved back into a 26-14 lead with two touchdowns before halftime.
“We let up for a little while, and they took advantage of our mistakes,” Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “We knew we had to get focused again, and we shut them out from there.”
Jones fumbled on the first possession of the second half, but Northern Illinois turned the ball back over after a failed fake field goal.
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