Duke beats Troy in Birmingham Bowl; Blue Devils led by interim coach, freshman quarterback

ByJohn Zenor, AP Sports Writer, WTVD-AP
Sunday, December 24, 2023
Duke beats Troy in Birmingham Bowl
The Blue Devils secured a winning season Saturday with a 17-10 Birmingham Bowl victory against Troy.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Freshman quarterback Grayson Loftis threw for 183 yards and Duke's defense came up with a final stop as the Blue Devils secured a winning season Saturday with a 17-10 Birmingham Bowl victory against Troy.

This is back-to-back seasons with bowl wins for Duke. Just the second time in program history.

The Sun Belt Conference champion, Troy (11-3), tried to finish the season on an 11-game winning streak for the second straight year. But against a Blue Devils (8-5) lineup decimated by transfer portal departures, the Trojans couldn't find an offensive rhythm.

A lack of syncopation wasn't unexpected. Both teams played with interim coaches.

Duke's Trooper Taylor filled in for Texas A&M-bound Mike Elko while Troy defensive coordinator Greg Gasparato stepped up when Jon Sumrall took a job at Tulane.

Both programs have already hired replacements - former Miami coach Manny Diaz takes over at Duke and Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker is the new hire at Troy.

Since taking over for the injured Riley Leonard, who later transferred to Notre Dame, Loftis has been effective without much to show for the understudy work. In four starts, he delivered victories against Wake Forest and Pitt in between narrow losses to North Carolina and Virginia.

Against Troy, Duke built a 17-3 fourth-quarter lead and looked to put the game out of reach. But Troy intercepted Loftis deep in Trojans territory and then replied with an 87-yard drive to cut the margin to one score.

But Duke would need one final stop to secure victory and got it when Jeremiah Lewis intercepted Gunnar Watson with just over a minute remaining in the game. A senior, Watson finished the game with 230 yards passing.