DURHAM (AP) — Nobody figured Anthony Boone would be starting so soon for Duke again — including Boone.
So when he got word about 10 minutes before kickoff that he was the surprise starter, there wasn’t much time to dwell on it.
Boone threw three touchdown passes in his first game back from injury to lead Duke past mistake-prone Navy 35-7 on Saturday.
Boone, who was out for three games with a broken collarbone, was put back in the starting lineup when his replacement, Brandon Connette, tweaked an ankle and wound up unable to play.
“The beauty of Anthony is that he had no idea he was going to start — nor did we until Brandon … just said he can’t go,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “Anthony just slipped in like he hadn’t missed a beat.”
He was 31 of 38 — which Cutcliffe praised as “just ridiculous” — for a career-high 295 yards for Duke (4-2) with TDs covering 27 and 18 yards to Isaac Blakeney and 3 yards to Max McCaffrey.
“The whole week, I kind of just was feeling good, and they said, ‘We might get you in for a couple of reps,’” Boone said. “The more I could get on balls and throw during practice, the more I felt more comfortable,” he added. “I said, ‘OK, I’m ready to play.’”
Darius Staten had a 7-yard touchdown run for the Midshipmen (3-2), who managed just 73 total yards in the second half. They were denied their first 4-1 start since 2006 and haven’t beaten the Blue Devils since 2007.
“That’s one of the worst days that Navy football’s had in a long, long time,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We got our butts whipped all the way around. We got outcoached, we got outplayed. It’s been a long time since we got beat that bad.”
Jela Duncan had a 5-yard scoring run and Shaquille Powell ran 7 yards for a TD for Duke, which rolled up 435 total yards and pulled away with touchdowns on five of its first six possessions after the first quarter.
Boone and the Blue Devils threw at will against a top-30 Navy pass defense that’s allowing just 205.5 yards passing per game, and the Midshipmen’s seven points were the fewest scored by a Bowl Subdivision team against Duke since Vanderbilt was held to a touchdown in 2008.
Boone was back on the field five weeks after he was hurt in the win at Memphis, and looked quite at ease while improving his career record as a starter to 4-0.
He didn’t take his first hit until Duke’s second possession — it didn’t seem to bother him at all — and he had little trouble moving the Blue Devils up and down the field while completing 16 of his first 19 passes.
Boone threw for touchdowns on consecutive second-quarter series, first putting the Blue Devils up 7-0 when he hit a wide-open Blakeney for a long, easy touchdown. He followed that by dropping an over-the-shoulder toss into McCaffrey’s hands to put Duke ahead to stay at 14-7 with 4:35 left in the half.
“After the first quarter, I felt very comfortable,” Boone said. “The first couple of series was kind of like flying bullets, getting used to things flying around, the speed of the game. … After a while, though, it just kind of came back to the natural feel of the game.”
Boone’s third touchdown was all Blakeney. The redshirt junior caught a short pass and cut across the field on his way to the end zone with 9:52 left in the third.
Duke converted 10 of 16 third downs and a pair of fourth downs.
“We had trouble getting them off the field on third down. They just found holes,” Navy linebacker DJ Sargenti said. “You can’t point fingers. It’s the whole defense’s fault. You just have to move on.”
Navy’s only touchdown came late in the second quarter, when the Midshipmen found a way to run around the ends.
Staten took a pitch around the left side for a score moments after the Midshipmen ran three straight pitches around right end — and Marcus Thomas took the last one 47 yards to the Duke 12.
Aside from that, this was one to forget for Navy.
The nation’s least-penalized team was flagged five times — four in the first half — and had three turnovers — or, as many as they had in their first four games combined.
The Midshipmen blew a prime scoring chance in the final seconds of the half when Reynolds fumbled at the Duke 10 while under intense pressure from Kenny Anunike.
They never seriously threatened again.
“You’ve got to remember, that’s the U.S. Navy,” Anunike said. “They protect our country. I hope that they don’t back down from anything, and that’s exactly what they didn’t do. So we kept after them.”