Fairhope football fans not surprised by Duke’s 28-7 upset of No. 9 Clemson

Pirate alumni among field stormers after Blue Devils' largest win over ranked opponent since 1942

Sports Editor
Posted 9/5/23

Fairhope, Alabama shined on the prime-time stage as former Pirate quarterback Riley Leonard, now calling signals for the Duke Blue Devils, ran wild on a 44-yard touchdown rush Monday night to spurn …

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Fairhope football fans not surprised by Duke’s 28-7 upset of No. 9 Clemson

Pirate alumni among field stormers after Blue Devils' largest win over ranked opponent since 1942


Residents who live near Fairhope Brewing Company’s watch party might have heard the crowd’s eruption as Riley Leonard escaped the clutches of a would-be tackler near the line of scrimmage.

The 44-yard touchdown from the former Fairhope Pirate quarterback, now the junior signal caller for the Duke Blue Devils, helped propel the toppling of No. 9 Clemson 28-7. To complete the play, the member of Fairhope High School’s Class of 2021 scampered up the sideline to give Duke a 13-7 lead on its first possession of the second half.

The Blue Devil defense took it from there and thwarted three of Clemson’s trips to the red zone with a blocked field goal and two fumble recoveries to pitch a second-half shutout. The 21-point margin of victory served as Duke’s largest win over a ranked opponent since a 34-0 win over 9th-ranked Colgate in 1942.

“Wade Wackos” go wild

After a final snap from the victory formation, Blue Devil fans — including Leonard’s brother Devin and a group of Fairhope alumni — stormed Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium as the Duke football team had secured its first win over a nationally-ranked opponent in a season opener.

“I’m kind of at a loss for words right now, but God is good and so is our defense,” Leonard said in his postgame press conference. “Super grateful to have those guys out there and for the fanbase to support us and storm the field. It’s something that we’ve never experienced before as players, so I’m so grateful to be in this situation and to be a part of the journey here.”

Leonard continuing to build on legacy

Leonard finished with 175 yards on 17-of-33 passing as well as 8 carries for 98 rushing yards and the one touchdown. After he burst on the scene as a sophomore and capped things with a Military Bowl MVP trophy, Blue Devil head football coach Mile Elko said Leonard’s performance Monday night is just another in a list of standouts.

“That is what that kid continues to do, right? It's his ability to elevate at the right moment at the right time when we need him,” Elko said of Leonard after the game. “He's such a competitor. He puts this team on his shoulders, and he drives them forward. He will come in and tell you there's a lot he's got to clean up too, but man, when it's time to step up, make plays that kid’s done it since the day I got here.”

In just his second season at the helm of the Duke program, Elko’s Blue Devil teams are now 8-0 when they score first in the game.

The squad was rewarded with its first national ranking since 2018 where Duke was the No. 21 team in the Associated Press poll and No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

Up next

The Blue Devils were set for another home game this weekend as the Lafayette Leopards come to town fresh off a 19-14 win over Sacred Heart in the season opener.

Money quote

“Everyone said Duke has a hard schedule this year … they’re not going to be as good. To be honest, we love hearing that. Obviously we had a great year last year, but we weren’t just a one-and-done caliber of a team,” Leonard said. “We’re going to keep this chip on our shoulder and move into next week as we have a quick turnaround.”