It was the opening play everyone in Wallace Wade Stadium was waiting for: quarterback Thaddeus Lewis would drop back for the first time all season, look deep to his favorite target, wideout Eron Riley, in single coverage down the sideline and a 50-yard pass would float into Riley’s hands, outstretched over the cornerback’s, as he danced into the endzone to kick off the David Cutcliffe era with gusto.
Well, sort of.
Lewis executed the play action perfectly, buying Riley time to run down the left side the field in single coverage. The crowd, already on its feet, roared with anticipation as it saw Riley streak, step by step, with his defender as Lewis opened his front shoulder and lofted the ball high in the air. Except as soon as it left the quarterback’s hand, it was clear the ball would land at least five yards in front of the intended receiver–which is exactly what happened.
“When [Cutcliffe] called that play, I kinda figured there was a chance we could score on that first play, so why not take a shot?” Lewis said Tuesday, adding that the play was not scripted in advance. “Coach said I had my mind made up, that if I had went through my reads I probably could’ve hit Kyle Austin on the go route. But I was trying to get a big play on the first–”
I interrupted him before he finished his sentence.
“You were going to Eron no matter what, right?” I asked.
“Yeah, yeah, definitely,” Lewis said.
And even though the pass fell to the ground–unlike two tosses that found Riley’s hands in the endzone later in the 31-7 win–it was exactly the type of risky and fan-happy offensive set spectators wanted. Of course, Duke started the 2007 season with a similar play that resulted in a 53-yard gain and eventual touchdown. And while the Lewis-to-Riley connection proved fruitful in that season opener, we all know how the scoreboard read on the game’s last play: with Duke on the other end of Saturday’s result.
UPDATE: In the comment section below, Lunk left a link to the play on YouTube. Thanks for the tip!
–by Ben Cohen