CHAPEL HILL — Just call him Mr. November.
That’s what the Blue Devils do when referring to redshirt freshman safety DeVon Edwards.
It was on Nov. 9 that Edwards had a career day against N.C. State, with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and interceptions on back-to-back passes in the fourth quarter that both went for scores. After that win, media members joked with him that he should look for himself on ESPN’s Sports Center.
“Think so?” He had said then, serious as can be.
Saturday at North Carolina, Edwards added to his highlight reel in Duke’s 27-25 ACC Coastal Division-clinching win. He had another kickoff return, this one for 99 yards. And it was his interception with 13 seconds left that sealed the win. Edwards also added a pass breakup and eight tackles, six of them solo.
As a part of Duke’s defense, Edwards’ ascension is an accurate representative for the whole. Through the month of September, he had played just 83 snaps, recorded four tackles and fielded one kickoff. But as the season went on, he and the rest of the Blue Devils found their groove.
His ability was always there, as coach David Cutcliffe said every time the staff watched film on him in high school he was scoring off another return. As coverages were simplified, his knowledge of the defense grew, and that natural ability began to show.
“There are some things you can’t teach,” said Ross Cockrell, who has served as a pseudo-assistant coach for the young secondary players like Edwards, Breon Borders, Deondre Singleton and Bryon Fields. “DeVon is about 5-foot-8, and he can dunk with two hands.”
The kickoff job became his full time when Johnell Barnes broke his hand in a bar fight in early October. A month later, he ran one back against N.C. State.
This one against the Tar Heels Saturday was even bigger. Jamison Crowder had just muffed a punt, and that led directly to eight UNC points. With less than two minutes before halftime, Edwards fielded the kick and instantly gave Duke back the lead, 17-15.
“The guys in the press box said that was about as pretty as you could block it,” Cutcliffe said. “I can’t wait to see that on tape, but it was a huge momentum team in the ball game.
“They’re a great return team, a lot has been said about that” Cutcliffe said, referring to UNC’s Ryan Switzer, “And we feel like we’re a great return team, too.”
Switzer was held in check, as he only had one chance to return a punt, and that was snuffed out by Duke for just a 5-yard gain in the fourth quarter.
Later in the final quarter, when Duke’s defense is always at its best, Edwards came up big again, intercepting a Marquise Williams pass at the Duke 29-yard line with 13 seconds left. The Tar Heels had been driving, and Williams converted a fourth down with a 10-yard scramble just two plays earlier to get the Tar Heels across midfield. But on second-and-10, Williams was pressured by Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and threw up a ball that wound up in Edwards’ hands.
“He just kind of threw a little duck simply to me, and I knew I just had to catch it,” Edwards said. “I was patient, and I just let it come down to me, and I just fell because I knew the game was over.”
He didn’t quite fall fast enough for Cutcliffe’s liking at the time – the 8-yard return was 8 yards too many at the time (“Don’t be having flashbacks to scoring,” Cutcliffe joked after the game). But once again, it was Mr. November coming up big for Duke.
Now the Blue Devils just need that to carry over into December.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley