by Mike Potter
CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM/RALEIGH It's the second meeting of the season between a pair of Triangle Division I football teams, and the first time it's matching two clubs from the ACC.
N.C. State and Duke don't play every year any more under the divisional system necessitated by the conference's expansion to 12 teams. The Wolfpack is in the Atlantic Division and Duke in the Coastal, and while NCSU's cross-divisional permanent opponent is UNC, Duke's is Wake Forest.
Now they're playing for the second straight season, with the Wolfpack winning last year's meeting 27-17 at Wallace Wade Stadium. That was the Wolfpack's 11th straight win in the series, and State will be favored again today. NCSU is 3-2 and Duke 2-3 after each lost its ACC opener last week.
The game is on ESPNU, and it's not quite a sellout on a partly cloudy, warm day with many of the students away on fall break. And the fans, both in the stands and on TV, get one heck of an offensive show as Duke wins 49-28, its first ACC road victory since a win at UNC in 2003. A crowd of 56,452 saw Duke's first win in Raleigh since 1984, before any current Duke player was born.
Today they're not serving the traditional barbecue and chicken in the press box, instead an array of casseroles covered in cheese or gravy - chicken, broccoli, potatoes. It's probably marginally better for us anyway.
The Blue Devils have little trouble on their drive following the opening kickoff, going 70 yards in 11 plays with Thaddeus Lewis hitting Brett Huffman with a bullet from two yards out for the touchdown and Lewis' Duke career record-tying 55. Will Snyderwine adds the kick and it's 7-0 visitors at 9:42.
The Wolfpack answers with a drive that is just as easy. Russell Wilson goes around right end untouched for the 10-yard score at 6:15, with Josh Czajkowski adding the boot for the tie.
Duke keeps the ping-pong match going on its next possession, a 12-play, 71-yard march ending as Lewis bounces off the line and then breaks away around the left side for a two-yard touchdown. Smyderwine's conversion makes it 14-7 with 30 seconds left in the quarter.
That doesn't end the scoring for the period, as on the Wolfpack's next play from scrimmage Wilson hits Owen Spencer up the middle and the receiver sprints 62 yards to the end zone. Czajkowski's kick makes it 14-14 with 14 seconds left in the quarter and we'll switch ends of the field.
Duke doesn't blink. Lewis takes the Blue Devils down the field again on a nine-play, 62-yard march, finding Re'quan Boyette easing down the left end-zone line from seven yards away. Snyderwine's kick makes it 21-14 with 11:45 left in the half.
State takes that in stride, getting another touchdown on the ground as Toney Baker breaks some tackles in the background and heads left to go in from nine yards out. Czajkowski's kick adds the exclamation point to the nine-play, 85-yard drive and it's 21-21 with 8:22 left in the half.
A funny thing happens at the 4:02 mark, when the Boyette fumbles at the State 6 as Alan-Michael Cash strips him and the Wolfpack's Clem Johnson recovers.
And the spell is completely broken when the Wolfpack has to punt from its own 30, and the Blue Devils have to punt from their own 42. State runs out of time in its own territory, but will receive the second-half kickoff.
The Wolfpack can't do anything on its first series of the second half, either, and Duke responds with a nine-play, 97-yard drive with Lewis hitting Danny Parker from six yards out. Snyderwine's boot makes it 28-21 at 8:17.
The Blue Devils' lead lasts for 12 seconds, as T.J. Graham takes the kickoff and outruns everybody 93 yards down the left sideline with Czajkowski's try tying it up at 28-28.
The rhythm is back as Duke goes 72 yards in 10 plays to take the lead again, as Lewis connects with Austin Kelly from four yards out. Snyderwine makes it 35-28 with 3:49 left in the third.
The Blue Devils take advantage of a big mistake early in the fourth, when a punt hits the Wolfpack's Kevin Rojas and Duke's Tony Foster recovers at the 11. Three plays later Lewis hits Vernon from five yards out and Snyderwine makes it 42-28 with 11:02 to play.
Duke effectively locks up the game when the Wolfpack comes up short on fourth-and-1 at the Blue Devils' 40 with 6:05 left, as Ayanga Okpokowuruk stuffs Baker for a short loss.
And then lightning strikes the Wolfpack's punt-return team again. This time Kevin Jones' punt hits Owen Spencer and the Blue Devils' Adam Banks recovers in the end zone with 3:07 left. Snyderwine's boot makes it 49-28.
Wilson is intercepted by Leon Wright on State's next play from scrimmage and that's all, folks.
They said it ...
Duke coach David Cutcliffe: "I'll probably upset some of my former quarterbacks (including the NFL's Manning brothers), but I believe that's the best game I've ever had a quarterback have in my college career."
State coach Tom O'Brien: "We noticed at halftime that Duke was 7-for-9 in third-down conversions and it just snowballed from there. We had opportunities and just didn't do it. We'll head back to the practice field and work on some things and get back on track in the second half."
Lewis: "It feels great. Team success comes from individual success. I tip my hat to the defense for not allowing those guys to score (late) in the second half, the offensive line for blocking the way they did and all the playmakers around me for making the plays that they made."
Wilson: "Our objective is to score more points than the other team, but we came up short tonight. Thaddeus Lewis played great."
What does it all mean?
Both teams are now 3-3, and both need to win four of their last six to qualify for bowl eligibility. Duke really does have a shot at playing in a bowl game with a road upset under its belt.
Stars of the game
1. Lewis. He finished with five passing touchdowns and one on the ground, completing 40 of 50 for 459 yards, setting the school single-game completion record and the school career touchdown pass record with 59.
2. Vernon, for his 10 catches for 86 yards and the touchdown.
3. Graham, for his 93-yard kickoff return.
Play of the game
Okpokowuruk's tackle to stop Baker and get Duke the ball with a two-touchdown lead.
Duke leads 40-36-5.
State: Lost 2.
Duke: Won 1.
N.C. State at Boston College, Oct. 17, Time TBA
Maryland at Duke, Oct. 24, Time TBA