Staff photo by Chuck Liddy
DURHAM — N.C. State linebacker Nate Irving dropped back into the middle of the field and got both hands on the pass but couldn't haul it in late in the second quarter Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Irving jumped around in frustration because he didn't get the interception. But the deflection and incompletion came on third down, forcing Duke to punt.
For an N.C. State team that hasn't forced enough punts in Irving's absence, the play and the game turned out just fine. The Wolfpack's six-game losing streak against ACC opponents ended with a 27-17 decision.
Quarterback Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes and the Wolfpack defense celebrated Irving's return from an ankle injury with its best performance of the season.
No N.C. State opponent had scored fewer than 24 points this season until Saturday. The Wolfpack (3-6, 1-4 ACC) were the only team in the ACC without a conference win before Saturday.
Duke (4-5, 1-4) needs two wins in its last three games to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. The Blue Devils moved the ball at times, but failed to convert three times on fourth down deep in N.C. State territory.
On fourth-and-1 at the 10 in the second quarter, Jay Hollingsworth was stopped for no gain by Willie Young and Alan-Michael Cash. On Duke's first drive in the third quarter, Thaddeus Lewis threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal from the 1 under heavy pressure from Young and Leroy Burgess.
At desperation time late in the fourth quarter, Lewis completed a fourth-down pass to Eron Riley just short of the sticks, turning the ball back over to N.C. State.
N.C. State extended its winning streak in the series to 11 games. The teams were meeting for the first time since 2003.
It probably will be too little, too late, but Duke finally has scored its first points of the second half against N.C. State.
Thaddeus Lewis passed 4 yards to Jay Hollingsworth for a score to cut N.C. State's lead to 27-17 with 1:26 remaining in the game.
As the third quarter neared a close, Josh Czajkowski's 32-yard field goal increased N.C. State's lead to three scores at Duke.
The Wolfpack led 27-10 with 19 seconds remaining in the third quarter after Russell Wilson passed 21 yards to Owen Spencer and 17 yards to Darrell Davis to move N.C. State into position for the field goal.
Earlier, on Duke's first drive of the second half, N.C. State's defense completed its best goal line stand since the Sept. 20 win over East Carolina.
Ray Michel stopped Clifford Harris for no gain on second-and-goal from the 1, and Robbie Leonard tripped up Harris at the line of scrimmage on the next play.
On fourth down, Thaddeus Lewis tried a play-action pass to tight end Brett Huffman but was hurried by Leroy Burgess and Willie Young and threw incomplete.
Duke's Marcus Jones nearly intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone on the next play for a touchdown, but couldn't hold on before the ball hit the turf. On the next play, Jamelle Eugene broke loose for a 53-yard run to get the Wolfpack out of harm's way.
It was N.C. State's first run of more than 27 yards all season. The teams exchanged punts before the Wolfpack drove for the field goal.
N.C. State was a model of efficiency on offense in the first half at Duke, which ended with the Wolfpack ahead 24-10 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The Wolfpack scored the first four times it touched the ball, failing only when it played conservatively after taking possession on its own 28-yard line with 1:26 remaining in the first half.
N.C. State punter Bradley Pierson didn't make his first appearance until there were 22 seconds remaining in the first half. At halftime, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson was eight-for-13 for 118 yards with two touchdown passes.
Duke's Thaddeus Lewis also had 118 passing yards - and was 14-for-20 with one score.
Duke brought an extra safety into the box to stop an N.C. State running game that was hurting the Blue Devils.
Quarterback Russell Wilson quickly made Duke pay. He threw to his sideline to the left for Jarvis Williams, whose 32-yard touchdown catch widened N.C. State's lead to 24-10 with 2:59 remaining in the second quarter.
Wilson, a redshirt freshman, now has 10 touchdown passes and just one interception this season.
With the game in danger of getting away from Duke, junior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis engineered a huge drive to get the Blue Devils within 17-10 with 5:41 remaining in the second quarter against N.C. State.
Flushed out of the pocket on the drive's first play, Lewis hustled toward the sideline and dived forward for a 22-yard gain. After an N.C. State pass interference penalty, Lewis hit tight end Brett Huffman down the seam in the middle of the field past safety J.C. Neal for the Blue Devils' first touchdown.
Last week's open date appears to have done N.C. State a lot of good.
In search of its first ACC win, the Wolfpack leads 17-3 with 7:01 remaining in the second quarter after a 2-yard Russell Wilson touchdown pass to Anthony Hill.
N.C. State took possession after Duke failed to gain a yard on fourth-and-1 at the Wolfpack 10-yard line. Alan-Michael Cash and Willie Young stopped Jay Hollingsworth for no gain on a run off right tackle.
Hill kept N.C. State's drive alive by outjumping safety Catron Gainey to catch a pass for 25 yards on third-and-7 from the Duke 30. Two plays later, Wilson found Hill again for the touchdown.
N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien used some trickery for the first touchdown Saturday at Duke.
T.J. Graham received a kickoff at the 7-yard line and handed off to J.C. Neal at the 11. Neal was never touched as he sped to his right to the sideline for a touchdown, a 93-yard gain and a 10-3 lead for N.C. State with 1:22 remaining in the first quarter.
Neal's touchdown came after Duke's strategy became obvious on its second drive.
The Blue Devils are attacking the N.C. State cornerbacks, who have caused coach Tom O'Brien considerable heartbreak this season. The Wolfpack stopped three running plays behind the line of scrimmage, but Duke simply countered with out patterns and screens at the corners to drive 61 yards in 16 plays in a drive that lasted 7:33.
Thaddeus Lewis was 8-for-9 on the drive, which ended in a 29-yard Nick Maggio field goal that tied the score at 3-3 and set the stage for Neal's big return.
Senior tailback Andre Brown came up big on the opening drive for N.C. State, which used a 22-yard field goal by Josh Czajkowski with 5:43 elapsed Saturday for the first score and a 3-0 lead at Duke.
Brown caught a 16-yard screen pass and ran 14 yards off tackle to help set up the field goal.
The return from an ankle injury of linebacker Nate Irving, N.C State's best defensive player, seemed to give the Wolfpack a lift on the opening series.
So did a Duke false start penalty before the opening play from scrimmage as the Blue Devils failed to gain a first down. N.C. State forced a punt and traveled 50 yards in nine plays to set up the field goal.