And so it has come to this; The best—and most schizophrenic—Duke team in maybe 15 years is but one win away from being Bowl eligible. Standing in their way this afternoon is the N.C. State Wolfpack, the fans of which have traveled en masse to Wallace Wade Stadium today, infecting everyone and everything with their post-Phillip Rivers disenchantment. Duke winning this one depends on which team shows up, the mistake-prone slow starters or the one that went tit-for-tat with Wake Forest's prolific offense. This is, however, a rivalry game, the cliche being that anything is possible, anything can happen, etc. The battle for a second-tier bowl begins...now.
Duke loses the coin toss. The Wolfpack captains decide to defer to the second half. The in-press box stats guy announces that Duke has lost each of the 9 opening coin tosses so far in 2008. Do with that information what you will.
Other fun facts: As indicated by the neon orange gameday info sheet just handed to me by the sports info intern, Duke leads this series 39-35, though the Blue Devil's last victory was waaaaaay back in 1993.
To the game.
Kickoff fielded and returned for decent yardage, the Wolfpack sloppily marches towards the Duke end zone but is stopped at the six yard line. They opt for the field goal. N.C. State 3 Duke 0.
-Hello there Thaddeus Lewis, we hadn't expected you until the third quarter. You catch us off-guard with your mastery of the out route, and overall competency this early in the contest. And the Duke, uh, faithful loves you for it, at least, what number of them have shown up do. Halfway into the first quarter, as Duke answers with a field goal of their own, there are still empty seats in the stands. Duke 3 N.C. State 3.
-J.C. Neal thinks very little of your kick off return coverage, Duke. The N.C. State safety just burned down the sideline to the tune of 89 yards and a T.D. Also, I think he might have been waving to his mom in the stands, either that or he was flashing his cell phone number to one of the Duke cheerleaders, though he could probably have slowed down to do that and still not have been caught by Duke's poor kicker. What I'm trying to say is that he's fast. N.C. State 10 Duke 3
-Duke's offense is stymied again deep in the Wolfpack territory. Cutcliffe opts to go for it on fourth down on the N.C. State 11. It might be a bit early in the game for such gambles, but with N.C. State moving the ball at will, maybe he thinks Duke needs to get a T.D. on the board before they go into the lockeroom. Duke falls short, and on the ensuing possession State marches 89 yards in the opposite direction for a touchdown. N.C. State 17 Duke 3.
-An observation: The Duke defensive line is giving N.S. State quarterback Russell Wilson all the time in the world. So far he's been standing straight up in the pocket and delivering lofting, perfectly placed passes to whomever he pleases. But it wasn't until just now that I realized he was black. A black quarterback whose coach, based on my observation thus far, has opted to develop his passing skills rather than emphasize his athleticism? Take that Marc Davis.
-A question: Has anyone seen Eron Riley today?
-And we're back. The pressbox wi-fi crapped out for a few minutes, though you would expect a school like Duke to have only the best in digital equipment. The effects of the Duke lacrosse lawsuit are far-reaching indeed. Ba-zing! What you missed while we were away: N.C. State scored again. As did Duke, bringing the score to 24-10 before the teams headed into the lockeroom for halftime. I had details about each of these scores written out, but they were all lost to the ether. Here's the abbreviated version: N.C. State: pass, pass, pass, run, through porous Duke defense, amazing grab by big boy tight end. Another pass. Score. Wolfpack fan disenchantment biohazard decreasing from Typhoid Mary-like levels.
Duke scoring drive: I am Thaddeus Lewis. Coach Cutcliffe says that there are no excuses. Coach Cutcliffe has said that he does not want the Tennessee job. I believe Coach Cutcliffe. I believe in me. Drive. Drive down the field. Score. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Duke is piling up the stats, but not the points. Another long Duke drive terminates deep in 'Pack territory, this one on the goalline. After Duke's triumvirate of running backs fails to punch the ball in, Thad Lewis attempts to force a pass to the back of the end zone. The intended receiver—not Eron Riley, who in the midst of a quiet day—lays out for the ball but to no avail. Turnover on downs. N.C. State ball.
-The difference is defense—N.C. State is stopping Duke when it counts. Duke is going in the opposite direction, letting the Pack score on each of it's possessions so far. After another workman-like drive, N.C. state kicks a field goal from the Duke 25. N.C. State 27 Duke 10
Third quarter observations: Thad Lewis and Russell Wilson's total passing yardage is identical despite Lewis having had to wipe off Wolfpack defenders from his uniform after nearly play. Rushing has been a non-factor, though State's own running back committee has nearly a 100 more yards than Duke's. Finally, the crowd is starting to thin out, and it's mostly the folks wearing blue that are leaving.
-N.C. State has played some imperfect, but mistake-free football today and that is not likely to change at this midpoint in the final quarter. They're smartly keeping it on the ground to milk the clock thereby forcing someone (anyone) on Duke's side of the ball to make a big play. As per usual, Uber-middle linebacker, Mike Tauiliili, has had a fantastic game, smashing State's puny human skill players to the tune of 11 tackles. But with less than 5 minutes left in the game, Duke is going to need more than just heroics to pull this one out.
-Duke scores a garbage time touchdown with less than 2 minutes to go, making the score 27-17. Their only hope now is an onside kick, which fails much to the disappointment of the crowd who roared when it look like a member of the Duke's good hands team had recovered the ball. N.C. State takes a knee on two consecutive plays, and the game is over.
If there is a bright spot here it's has to be Thad Lewis, who had a monster day with 300 yards passing, two TD's, another 41 yards on the ground. But before the hosannas get cued up, it's probably fair to point out that having your QB best your running back corps in total yards gained is not at all a good thing.
Next week: Clemson.