College Football: N.C. State 27, Duke 17

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 8, 2008

By Joedy McCreary
Associated Press
DURHAM ó J.C. Neal knew he had a chance when the North Carolina State cornerback saw Duke’s kickoff coverage team focusing on the speedy T.J. Graham. After a bit of misdirection, he had the Wolfpack well on their way to snapping a four-game losing streak.
Neal took a reverse on a kickoff return 89 yards for a touchdown to lead N.C. State past the Blue Devils 27-17 on Saturday and, at long last, give a first conference victory to what previously was the only ACC team winless in league play.
“With a threat like T.J. Graham, everybody’s going to key in on him, so we did a great job of using him as a decoy and giving me the rock on the reverse,” Neal said. “It’s a good jump start to the last half of our season. … We deserved it.”
Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson threw two touchdowns and matched a season high with 218 yards passing for N.C. State (3-6, 1-4), which scored on its first four possessions to win a matchup of the league’s two last-place teams.
Wilson finished 13-of-25 with scoring passes covering 2 yards to Anthony Hill and 32 yards to Jarvis Williams.
“They all want the ball in their hands, and I’m going to give it to them,” Wilson said. “We had to throw the ball here and there, and they made some great plays tonight.”
They helped a Wolfpack offense that entered as one of the ACC’s worst roll up 377 total yards ó seven shy of the season high established during its last win, an overtime upset of then-No. 15 East Carolina on Sept. 20. N.C. State had become increasingly competitive in recent weeks, losing its last three by a combined 19 points, yet made it to November still 0-for-the-ACC for the first time since 1959.
Thaddeus Lewis was 37-of-52 for 317 yards with two touchdowns for Duke (4-5, 1-4), which had three plays from the 1-yard line on its opening drive of the second half but came away with no points. Then, on the first play of N.C. State’s ensuing drive, linebacker Marcus Jones couldn’t come up with a tricky interception in the end zone off the pass he deflected, and Jamelle Eugene took the next handoff up the middle 53 yards to further deflate the Blue Devils.
“The good thing about the fourth downs is, we were backed up, but we changed field position,” N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said. “We were backed up and got the ball out of there.”
Duke ó which lost its second straight to an instate ACC rival yet already has won as many games as it did in the previous four seasons combined ó hasn’t beaten N.C. State since 1993. This was the teams’ first meeting since 2003 because of the ACC’s rotating schedule and two-division format.
“I believe with all my heart that this team expected to win,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “It is obvious that we let some things slip through us.”
Like Neal, for instance, after he answered Nick Maggio’s game-tying 29-yard field goal late in the first quarter with some razzle-dazzle.
Graham ó the fastest player on the team and the son of track coach Trevor Graham ó fielded the kickoff at the 7-yard line and handed off to Neal at the 11, and the cornerback dashed untouched down the right sideline for a touchdown to make it 10-3.
“We know that people are focusing in on T.J. He’s like a rabbit,” O’Brien said. “It was wide open. Wide open.”
The Wolfpack stretched its lead to two touchdowns on its next possession, with Wilson hitting Hill from 2 yards out two snaps after the two connected on the 89-yard drive’s key play: Wilson eluded two would-be sackers on third-and-8 and found Hill, who caught it with cornerback Glenn Williams in his facemask, inside the 10.
“It felt like (David) Tyree’s catch in the Super Bowl,” Hill said, referring to the New York Giants receiver’s clutch reception in last February’s title game.
Wilson then made it 24-10 late in the second quarter when he found Williams down the left sideline for his team-leading fourth touchdown of the season.
“They all want the ball in their hands, and I’m going to give it to them,” Wilson said. “We had to throw the ball here and there, and they made some great plays tonight.”
Josh Czajkowski capped N.C. State’s opening drive with a 22-yard field goal, and he added a 32-yarder late in the third to make it 27-10.
Lewis’ touchdown pass to Brett Huffman late in the second quarter briefly pulled Duke to 17-10. He added a 4-yard toss to Jay Hollingsworth in the final minutes.
“We are running out of time,” Cutcliffe said. “We are a good football team. We are not a really good football team. … We just have to put a complete game together.”