Duke shows early-season struggles on back-to-back plays in loss to Charlotte


Duke football is not exactly instilling confidence in its fans as it opens its season against Charlotte.

The Blue Devils were trailing after Charlotte’s first drive of the game Friday night, but a perfect throw by quarterback Gunnar Holmberg to a wide-open Jarett Garner looked like it might tie the score. Unfortunately for Duke, this happened:


The next play, Duke almost sent the ball back the other way. Holmberg started to turn to throw a pass to the left, but the ball slipped right out of his hands and he was forced to fall on the fumble for a 6-yard loss.

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Charlotte added a field goal early in the second quarter to take a 10-0 lead. It wasn’t until 8:22 remained in the quarter that Holmberg found Jordan Waters for a 43-yard touchdown pass and Duke’s first points of the season. Duke then took the lead on a 5-yard rush by Holmberg with 2:57 left in the first half.

Duke scored a touchdown with 2:18 remaining in the fourth quarter to take a 28-24 lead, but with 33 seconds to go, Charlotte’s Chris Reynolds found Shadrick Byrd in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown pass to put the 49ers up 31-28. Charlotte held on for its first win over a Power 5 team.

Holmberg is still learning the ropes in his first season as Duke’s starter. He appeared in two games in 2018 as a freshman and then missed all of 2019 because of knee surgery. He backed up Chase Brice in 2020, although he did appear in six games and completed 18 of 25 passes for 161 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Brice went 193 for 352 for 2,170 yards, 10 touchdowns and 15 interceptions before transferring to Appalachian State.


The new QB has his work cut out for him in helping to turn around Duke football. It has been a rough few years for the David Cutcliffe-coached Blue Devils, who haven’t had a winning season since going 8-5 in 2018 and went 2-9 in 2020. Charlotte was one of those two wins; the Blue Devils blew them out 53-19 in Durham.

Duke has four games until it reaches the start of conference play and a tough matchup against rival North Carolina. Needless to say, it will need to show improvement if it wants to hang in the ACC.


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