After a strong start that saw starting QB Thomas Sirk finish off a 26 five play, 26 yard drive with a rushing touchdown, the Duke offense was held in check the rest of the day, putting pressure on the defense to hold the lead.
For a while it seemed the defense would be able to set the tone, consistently stopped Northwestern throughout the first half.
The Blue Devils led 7-0 and were driving toward the Northwestern end zone late in the first half before Sirk’s floating screen pass was intercepted by defensive lineman Dean Lowry. The Duke defense would stop the Wildcats on the ensuing drive, but a fumble by Shaun Wilson on the next Duke series would give the Wildcats the ball deep in Duke territory.
Northwestern would move into field goal range and cut the lead to 7-3 at the half with a 37-yard field goal in what seemed to be the beginning of a substantial shift in momentum.
That shift was completed on the first play of the second half as Solomon Vault returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for the touchdown that put the Wildcats ahead for good.
After the teams traded ineffective offensive series for the rest of the third quarter, Northwestern put the game away when Warren Long broke free for a 55-yard touchdown run to push the score to 19-10.
Duke’s final chance to rally was over as quickly as it began after the defense forced Northwestern to put from its own goal line. But junior return man Ryan Smith fumbled the punt at midfield and the Wildcats recovered. After converting two more first downs, Northwestern was free to run out the clock.
The loss drops Duke to 2-1 on the season, and things don’t get much easier as Georgia Tech comes to town in a week followed by Boston College.