Duke hosts NC Central in debut of revamped stadium
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Duke has spent the past few years rebuilding its football program, and now the Blue Devils did the same thing to their home field.
Duke (1-0) christens revamped Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday night with a visit from crosstown FCS opponent North Carolina Central (1-0).
The Blue Devils' home opener marks the latest milestone in a multiyear construction project at the once-dilapidated venue.
During the past 10 months, the unsightly track that once ringed the field was removed, the playing surface was lowered and the seating bowl was extended closer to the sidelines, making for a more intimate atmosphere.
An expansive tower that includes a dedicated press box and luxury suites also is under construction and should be ready next year, with temporary boxes in place for this season.
''I don't know if they've put a brick in that I haven't seen,'' coach David Cutcliffe said of the view from his office overlooking the stadium.
It stands as a monument to a program that has finally begun to win: After decades of futility, Duke has reached three straight bowl games for the first time, claimed the 2013 Coastal Division title and played for an ACC title.
From their perch across town, the Eagles have noticed and want to continue their own rise. They claimed a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title last year, just their fourth season since their move up from Division II was completed in 2011.
''We look over there, and that's what we want to be,'' N.C. Central safety C.J. Moore said. ''That trend that they're going upwards, we're trying to match that.''
Considering what it used to look like, the venue is impressive.
The first game there probably won't be.
The few websites that list FBS-vs.-FCS odds favor the Blue Devils by about 40 points against an N.C. Central team that is coming off a 72-0 rout of Division II St. Augustine's.
That score certainly caught the Blue Devils' attention.
''That game was no accident that it was 72-0,'' Cutcliffe said. ''It was precision in every phase.''
Some things to know about the N.C. Central-Duke game:
SIRK WORKS: Cutcliffe hopes for ''a big jump'' from Thomas Sirk in his second career start at quarterback. Sirk threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 68 yards on 15 carries, in a 37-7 rout at Tulane in the opener. ''I was confident ... that he would play well,'' Cutcliffe said. ''I think he'll be better this week.''
PASS PROTECTION: Duke didn't allow a sack against Tulane. The Blue Devils led the ACC in fewest sacks allowed per passing attempt in each of the past two seasons, but those teams had All-America right guard Laken Tomlinson, who's now with the Detroit Lions. They're breaking in two new starters on the line, guard Tanner Stone and tackle Gabe Brandner.
HAPPY RETURNS: Only one active FBS player has returned more kickoffs for touchdowns during his career than Duke's DeVon Edwards, whose fourth came last week when he brought one back 95 yards for a score. That raises a key question: Why do opponents keep kicking to him? Said Edwards: ''I guess they probably think their kickoff team is better than our kick-return team.''
COACHING TIES: Facing a Cutcliffe-coached team is a treat for second-year Central coach Jerry Mack, who said he attended his summer camp during his previous stop at Mississippi when the Eagles coach was a teenager growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. ''It's like going against one of your mentors,'' Mack said.
BULL CITY SERIES: This marks the fourth meeting between the Durham-based schools separated by 5 miles, all since 2009. Duke won the first three by a combined 148-31.
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