College Football

Blue Devils win Military Bowl 30-13 over UCF

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UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee is about to get sacked by Duke linebacker Cam Dillon during the third quarter of the Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., Dec. 28. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

An interception by Duke freshman defensive back Chandler Rivers with 46 seconds remaining sealed the Blue Devil’s 30-13 victory over the University of Central Florida Knights to win the Military Bowl, presented by Peraton, in front of 17,974 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.

The Knights received the opening kickoff and began their first possession from their own 25-yard line. Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee threw a 40-yard bomb to receiver Kobe Hudson on the first play, but it was incomplete. The next play was also a pass attempt, but was batted down by Blue Devil defensive tackle DeWayne Carter. This was the beginning of what became a long afternoon for Plumlee and the UCF offense. The first drive went six plays for 20 yards and took 2:27 off the clock.

The Blue Devils began their first possession on their own 13-yard line and immediately began a ground assault. Quarterback Riley Leonard rushed up the middle for a gain of five yards, which was followed by a one-yard run by Jaylen Coleman. Leonard threw twice, a 17-yard completion to wide receiver Jalon Calhoun and then an incompletion intended for tight end Cole Finney, which was broken up by Duke defensive back Justin Hodges. Duke then rushed for 64 yards on the next six plays, which was capped by a 14-yard Jaquez Moore rushing touchdown. The extra point by Todd Pelino gave Duke a 7-0 lead with 7:47 left in the first quarter.

The Knights went to their running game on their next possession. With runs by Plumlee, running backs Johnny Richardson and Isaiah Bowser, along with a seven-yard completion by wide receiver Xavier Townsend, the Knights went on a 14-play 75-yard drive of their own. A Bowser 1-yard touchdown run and Colton Boomer extra point tied the game at 7-7 with 2:10 left in the quarter.

Duke quarterback Riley Leonard attempts a pass while the offensive line holds during the Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., Dec. 28. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Duke then went three and out on their next possession, covering only nine yards on three plays. The quarter ended after a Porter Wilson punt went 57-yards to the UCF nine-yard line.

When the second quarter began, Plumlee and the Knights found a good run-pass mix and were able to move the ball downfield. A 15-yard rush by Richardson and a 9-yard reception by Townsend advanced the ball to their 34-yard line, picking up two first downs in the process, but a sack by Blue Devils linebacker Tre Freeman on 3rd-and-8 forced the Knights to punt on fourth down. Freeman, a redshirt freshman, recorded his first career sack on the play.

Duke began their next drive on their own 30 yard line and immediately Leonard hit Calhoun on a 45-yard reception. However, Calhoun fumbled, which was recovered by UCF. The Knights were about to begin their next drive when the officials decided to review the play. Upon further review, they determined that Calhoun had stepped out of bounds at the UCF 48-yard line, which gave Calhoun credit for a 22-yard completion.

Two rushes by Coleman for one-yard led to a 3rd-and-9 at the UCF 47. Leonard threw a pass to Sahmir Hagans, which was incomplete. Instead of 4th-and-9, a roughing the passer call on UCF defensive tackle Ricky Barber put the ball on the UCF 32 and a fresh set of downs for the Blue Devils. Over the next seven plays, Duke was able to make it as far as the UCF 4-yard line but tough defense from the Knights led to a 22-yard field goal by Todd Pelino to give Duke the 10-7 lead with 6:28 left in the half.

UCF began the next drive from their 34-yard line. Xavier Townsend scampered for a nine-yard gain to put the ball on the 43. On the next play, Plumlee scrambled for what should have been a 15-yard gain, but the ball slipped out of his hand before he went out of bounds. Duke’s Darius Joiner recovered at the Duke 42-yard line with 5:44 left in the half.

The Blue Devils wasted no time in making the best of an opportunity to extend their lead. A 12-yard reception by Cole Finney and a 32-yard pass completion by running back Jaquez Moore set up a 1-yard quarterback sneak touchdown by Leonard. The extra point gave Duke the 17-7 lead with 1:54 left in the half.

When it didn’t seem possible that much more would go wrong for the Knights, Johnny Richardson fumbled the kickoff. He recovered it at the Knights 19-yard line. UCF went three-and-out on the possession, their first one of the game.

Duke took over on their 31-yard line and immediately went into their hurry-up offense. Quick strikes to wide receivers Eli Pancol and Jalon Calhoun put the ball on the UCF 31-yard line. Todd Pelino was able to connect on a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give Duke the 20-7 lead at the half.

When play resumed, the Blue Devils picked up where they left off. Starting on their own 25-yard line, Leonard led the offense through a 13-play 54-yard drive that culminated in a 38-yard field goal by Polino and a 23-7 lead with 8:02 left in the third quarter. The drive took just under seven minutes off the clock.

UCF receiver Javon Baker catches a pass near the sideline as Duke cornerback Datone Young defends, during the Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., Dec. 28. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Despite only having the ball on offense for just 1:24 out of the previous 19:41 of play, the Knights tried to get a sustained drive going with their first time on offense in the third quarter. Plumlee connected with Hudson for pass completions of 14 and 8 yards respectively, to move the chains near midfield. Then Plumlee got sacked by Duke defensive end R.J. Oben for a three-yard loss on 2nd-and-10. On the next play, 3rd-and-13 from the UCF 43, Plumlee was sacked again by Oben and defensive end Vincent Anthony Jr. for a five-yard loss. However, an illegal substitution penalty by Duke gave UCF a break. When the down was replayed, it was 3rd-and-8 from the UCF 48 when Plumlee was sacked for the third time in a row, this time by linebacker Cam Dillon. On 4th-and-19, Mitch McCarthy punted to the Duke 3-yard line with 6:07 left in the third quarter.

Neither team was able to get anything going for the remainder of the quarter. Duke went three-and-out with a punt. The Knights ran four plays but turned it over on downs at the Duke 23. The next Blue Devils possession went five plays, 30 yards and ended on a punt with 14:10 remaining in the game.

Starting from their own 9-yard line, Plumee led the UCF offense on their first sustained drive of the second half. They were able to march downfield to the Duke 2-yard line which set up a touchdown run by Bowser. A 37-yard reception from Plumlee to Javon Baker and a 16-yard trick play pass from R.J. Harvey to Plumlee, set up the touchdown run. A failed two-point conversion made the score 23-13 with 9:03 left in regulation.

Duke then went four yards on three plays, which ended less than a minute later when Porter Wilson booted a 50-yard punt to the UCF 16 and an opportunity for the Knights to get back into the game.

An 11-yard rush by Plumlee and a 13-yard reception by tight end Alec Holler brought the ball to the UCF 40. On 1st-and-10, Plumlee was sacked by Darius Joiner, who forced the fumble, which Plumlee recovered at the UCF 31-yard line. An incomplete pass and 1-yard rush by Plumlee set up a 4th-and-18. Duke defensive end Ryan Smith sacked Plumlee, picking up the Blue Devil’s sixth sack on the afternoon, and forcing the turnover on downs with 5:25 left in regulations.

Starting from the UCF 26, the Blue Devils ran seven rushing plays and took nearly three minutes off the clock when Leonard dove into the end zone for a three-yard touchdown run. The extra point extended the Duke lead to 30-13 with just 2:29 left in regulation.

Plumlee and the Knights never gave up. Starting from their own 25, between a mix of Plumlee rushes and receptions to Harvey, Holler and Hudson, the Knights were quickly knocking on the Blue Devils door. Then with 46 seconds left and 3rd-and-10 from the Duke 13-yard line, Chandler Rivers picked off a Plumlee pass in the end zone that was intended for Hudson to put the game on ice.

James McCloughan sings “God Bless America” prior to the Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., Dec. 28, 2022. McCloughan earned the Medal of Honor as an Army medic for saving the lives of his fellow soldiers during action in Vietnam between May 13-15, 1969. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“First of all, congratulations to Duke. They played extremely well. [They] didn’t turn the ball over. They had one penalty. They deserved to win the game,” said UCF head coach Gus Malzahn. “When you look at the game – time of possession – it was very lopsided most of the game. Obviously, we are disappointed for our seniors to not get them out on a positive note. Those seniors have done such a great job for our program. That is the disappointing thing.”

Duke led the time of possession with 34:28 to UCF’s 25:32. The Blue Devils went 7-for-14 on third down conversions to 5-for-14 for the Knights. The Blue Devils didn’t attempt any fourth down conversions while the Knights went 2-for-4 on their fourth down attempts.

“This group is special and this program is special and what this university’s football team is going to be about in the future. I think today was just a testament to all of that,” said Duke head coach Mike Elko. “I just appreciate everyone who has been a part of this thing from day one. We couldn’t be more proud of this team and the guys in the locker room of where this has come. What a way to end this first story of Duke Football.”

The Blue Devils gained 350 yards of offense with 173 yards passing and 177 yards on the ground. UCF gained 198 yards in the air and 128 on the ground for 326 total yards of offense. The Knights gave up six sacks for 45 yards. The Blue Devil offensive line did not give up a single sack.

“I don’t know if that has happened all year, but give their defensive line credit. We did get behind so we did have to throw it. We were in two-minute mode the last two drives. They got pressure and got us. Anytime you have sacks, the chances of winning are slim to none,” said Malzahn.

Plumlee went 21-for-34 and 182 yards with one interception. He completed 62 percent of his passes for a 100.8 quarterback rating. Kobe Hudson was targeted 10 times, pulling down five receptions for 63 yards to lead the Knights. Javon Baker hauled down two passes for 49 yards, including a 37-yard reception which was the longest of the game. Isaiah Bowser led the Knights with 11 carries for 49 yards and two touchdowns. Plumlee attempted 14 rushes for 21 yards.

“Not good enough,” said Plumlee when asked to evaluate his play during the game. “We struggled as an offense. Part of playing quarterback, you get a lot of the blame. The praise as well. I think tonight there is no other way to say it other than not good enough.”

When asked to evaluate his performance on the season, Plumlee added, “There was some good. Some bad. There is a lot of work to be done in the offseason to become a better quarterback to be able to lead this team next season. I am looking forward to sharpening edges and being the best player I can be for this team next year.”

Riley Leonard went 19-for-28 and 173 yards for the Blue Devils. He completed 68 percent of his passes for a 119.8 quarterback rating. Jalon Calhoun was targeted seven times, pulling in six receptions for 62 yards to lead Duke. Leonard led all rushers with 10 carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns. Jaylen Coleman added seven rushes for 63 yards, while Jaquez Moore carried 12 times for 43 yards and one touchdown.

“I felt we controlled the game pretty well. They (UCF) have a really explosive offense so we wanted to keep their snap counts to a minimum. We executed pretty well on offense, did have a couple three-and-outs here and there, but throughout the game we consistently ran the ball and we were able to find the holes in the defense,” said Leonard.

The Military Bowl, presented by Peraton, was the first meeting between the Knights and Blue Devils on the football gridiron. The Blue Devils now hold a 1-0 all-time lead in the series. Duke finished the season with a 9-4 record while the University of Central Florida Knights concluded the 2022 campaign at 9-5.

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