Conner Vernon with one of his seven catches against Virginia. Credit: CHRIS SEWARD
DURHAM—Conner Vernon entered the game needing just one more catch to set a new ACC record for career receptions. He said earlier this week that he had been asked about it “a bunch” and was looking forward to getting it done. He didn’t have to wait long, as the catch came on Duke’s second drive of the game. Catch No. 233 moved him in front of former Clemson receiver Aaron Kelly, who set his record against Duke.
As fate would have it, he caught the screen pass in the backfield, and the play went for minus-two yards.
“He broke the record on not-so-flashy of a play,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “But 42-17 took care of that. I told him that’s pretty flashy, to win it in that fashion.”
“I just try to catch every ball that’s thrown to me,” Vernon said after the game with a laugh.
He did have a highlight reel-worth catch for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. On third-and-8 from the Virginia 45-yard line, Boone threw a perfectly placed pass to Vernon’s right shoulder. Even though he was double-covered (by Virginia CB Maurice Canady and S Brandon Phelps), Vernon caught it cleanly to put Duke ahead 35-17.
“You can’t ask for a much better ball than that, I didn’t have to jump up for it, I didn’t have to do anything, he just laid it right in there,” Vernon said. “I told him when I got the sideline, ‘hey, that’s one of the best throws I’ve ever seen.’”
Vernon finished the game with a team-high seven receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Jamison Crowder and Desmond Scott, Duke’s other starters, caught four and three passes, respectively, for 84 and 14 yards.
“Conner, you throw the ball anywhere, and he’s going to come down with it,” Boone said. “When it comes to Conner and Jamison, we feel like, if you have a one-on-one matchup, you throw the ball, and they are going to come down with it.”
Vernon has one more ACC record within reach: all-time receiving yards. He is currently 287 yards short of the mark held by former Florida State receiver Peter Warrick, who finished his career with 3, 517 yards.