College Football

Duke football beats Central Florida, 30-13, in Military Bowl in Annapolis; Riley Leonard named MVP

For first-year head coach Mike Elko, quarterback Riley Leonard and the rest of Duke football,  Wednesday’s 30-13 victory over Central Florida in the Military Bowl was a happy ending to what they all hope is the opening chapter to what will become a new era for the program.  

“What a way to end the first story of Duke football,” said Elko, who was the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year after turning around a program that had a winless conference record in 2021. “From where this team was walking off the field at the end of the 2021 season to walking off the field today as the 2022 Military Bowl champions, nobody can understand the amount of work and the amount of character that went into that.”  

Duke’s Jalon Calhoun gains big yards after a catch in the second quarter against Central Florida in Wednesday's Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Duke improved to 9-4, equaling its most wins in a season since 2014. Elko believes the future is even brighter.

“Now it’s on bigger and better things,” he predicted. 


Behind Leonard’s stellar performance and solid defensive play, Duke outscored UCF, 23-3, over the final three quarters. That included two touchdown runs by Leonard, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, and three field goals. The Blue Devils had three rushing touchdowns to establish a single-season school record with 32 and finished with 177 yards on the ground for the day.

Leonard completed 19 of 28 passes for 173 yards and rushed for a team-high 63 yards and two touchdowns. He was the catalyst as Duke rolled up 350 yards of total offense.

“I thought we controlled the game pretty well,” Leonard said. “We wanted to keep the snap count down because we knew they had an explosive offense.”

Duke had no turnovers and just one penalty.

“Coach Elko talks about the turnover margin being the biggest decider in a football game and it’s true,” said Leonard.

Duke quarterback Riley Leonard completes a pass in the second quarter of Wednesday's Military Bowl against Central Florida at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Duke’s defense was led by Cam Dillon’s nine tackles and two sacks. The Blue Devils set a Military Bowl record with six sacks and held UCF dual-threat quarterback John Rhys Plumlee in check. Plumlee, coming off late-season injuries, completed 21 of 34 passes for 182 yards. Meanwhile, the Knights were held to 128 yards rushing. 

That wasn’t good enough. 

“Our offensive play was inconsistent,” UCF head coach Gus Malzahn said. “There is no doubt. We did not play well enough offensively to give ourselves a chance to win.”


Duke scored on its first possession when Jacquez Moore scooted in from 14 yards out to cap an 87-yard, nine-play drive. Jaylen Coleman’s 37-yard run deep into UCF territory was the key play. Central Florida (9-5) countered with a 14-play possession which ended with tailback Isaiah Bowser barreling in from the 1. Bowser finished with 39 yards and scored both touchdowns for the Knights. 

“I wish I could have gone out with a win, but we had a great season,” said the fifth-year senior who played on five UCF bowl teams.

Following a 7-7 first quarter, Duke dominated the second quarter and outscored UCF, 13-0, to take a 20-7 lead into halftime. Todd Pelino kicked a pair of field goals, including a career-best 48-yarder as time expired in the second quarter. 

UCF was given great field position late in the third quarter after Mike McCarthy’s 60-yard punt pinned Duke at its own 3. The Blue Devils went three-and-out and a poor punt gave the Knights an extremely short field. 

Starting at the Duke 33-yard line, UCF squandered the opportunity and missed a chance to cut into the deficit. Duke put the game away with 2:29 to play when Leonard scored from the 3-yard line on a keeper and the conversion made it 30-13.