DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Conner Vernon described it as a perfect day.
The Blue Devils' senior wide receiver caught two touchdown passes and set the Atlantic Coast Conference record for career receptions, helping Duke crush Virginia 42-17 on Saturday.
Just as important in Vernon's mind was the fact the Blue Devils improved to 5-1 on the season and 2-0 in the ACC, giving the program its best start since the 1994 team won its first seven games.
"You can't ask for much more," Vernon said.
With his seven catches for 93 yards on the afternoon, Vernon now has 239 receptions in his career. He surpassed Clemson's Aaron Kelly as the ACC's all-time leader in career receptions when he made a catch for minus-2 yards in the first quarter. The senior also hauled in a 37-yard touchdown on the Blue Devils' second drive, and his 45-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter put Duke up 18 points.
Duke starting quarterback Sean Renfree missed the game with an injured right elbow. His replacement, Anthony Boone, threw four TD passes in his first start.
The sophomore passed for 212 yards without an interception.
"It was a big thing for me," Boone said. "I had a little (bit of) jitters at first, but once I calmed down and settled in, I feel like I executed pretty well."
After gaining 321 yards of total offense in the first half, Virginia (2-4, 0-2) could only muster two yards rushing and five first downs after halftime.
"Nothing happened in the third quarter," Virginia coach Mike London said. "They scored too many points, we didn't get any points. It was frustrating on both sides — I'm talking about offense and defensively. We've got to carry the momentum of halftime and our lead, and they moved the ball on us and ended up scoring points and we didn't answer. We didn't respond."
The key stretch of the game came early in the third quarter.
The Cavaliers had a 17-14 halftime lead on the strength of a first half where they averaged 7.1 yards per rush and totaled 184 yards on the ground.
After going without any yards on its first drive of the second half, Virginia had to punt from its own 5-yard line. Vernon returned the punt all the way to the Cavaliers' 22, and a holding penalty that was added on to the punt return gave Duke the ball at Virginia's 12.
Boone then lofted a swing pass to a wide-open Juwan Thompson for a touchdown on the Blue Devils' first play of the drive, giving Duke a 21-17 advantage.
On the Cavaliers' next possession, the Blue Devils' defense stopped Kevin Parks on a fourth-and-1 from Virginia's 47-yard line.
Duke took advantage of its optimal field position, gaining the 45 yards in four plays. Jela Duncan finished the drive with a powerful 11-yard touchdown run to go up by 11 points.
"I feel like that was a huge turn in momentum," Duke offensive lineman Dave Harding said. "Going into halftime, I felt like we were a little bit low on energy. Coming out, the defense did a great job stopping them. I think it really did get the energy swung in our favor. The crowd was really into it, and you could just feel that something good was happening."
Virginia's offense continued to sputter the rest of the quarter. After its powerful first half, the Cavaliers only had 14 yards rushing in the third quarter and then minus-12 in the fourth.
The only scoring of the fourth quarter came when Vernon caught a 45-yard high-arcing pass from Boone, and when Thompson had a 34-yard touchdown rush for the final margin.
"We had a great time in the locker room afterward, celebrating Conner's big record-breaking performance," Harding said. "Everybody's proud of Boone for stepping in. It was just a great time."