DURHAM – The record came one catch too early for Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon.
The fitting record-setting catch for the senior standout would have been a jump ball that he ripped away from a cornerback, like the one he caught for a 37-yard touchdown to give Duke a 14-7 lead in the first quarter.
Unfortunately for drama’s sake,Vernon had caught a screen pass on the left side of the field for a two-yard loss on the previous snap, meaning he set the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time receptions record on an entirely forgettable play in the Blue Devils’ 42-17 victory against Virginia.
“He broke the record on not so flashy of a play,” said a smiling Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “But 42-17 took care of that. I told him that’s pretty flashy.”
Vernon’s 233rd catch broke former Clemson wide receiver Aaron Kelly’s mark, though Vernon has never been much for numbers.
As usual, he was happy only if Duke won, which it did in convincing fashion.
“It’s the best,” Vernon said. “I think this is probably going to go down as one of my favorite games at this school in my four years. Just the way we won, how we did it, putting up 42 points like that, and doing it at home in front of the fans – you couldn’t ask for a better setting.”
Vernon’s first reception assured 41 straight games with a catch, which is the longest such active streak in the country.
He finished with seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 239 catches for his career with at least six more games to play.
“Conner is a truly elite athlete and a truly elite person,” Cutcliffe said. “Conner’s never been on a (negative) list for anything, academically, socially, and he’ll take your rep on the practice field if you let him. He loves to practice.
“That’s who you want to be your record-breakers, and I’m very, very happy for him and his family.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or email@example.com