ACC Football: Duke 49, N.C. State 28
By Aaron Beard
RALEIGH ó As Thad Lewis walked to the sideline with victory in hand, Duke coach David Cutcliffe greeted his quarterback with a handshake and a pat on the shoulder pads.
“It was the best game that I’ve had a quarterback play,” he said he told Lewis.
That’s high praise coming from Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator at Tennessee and Eli Manning’s coach at Mississippi. Then again, anyone who watched Lewis’ dazzling one-man show that helped the Blue Devils beat North Carolina State 49-28 on Saturday probably wouldn’t argue, either.
The senior threw for career-highs of 459 yards and five touchdowns. He set Duke’s career touchdown passing record and a single-game record with 40 completions. He also ran for a score as part of his gamelong torture of the Wolfpack’s overmatched defense.
Yes, overmatched. The word usually applies to Duke when talking about football. Yet Lewis ó a four-year starter who until now has seen his big passing days typically go for naught ó was unstoppable as the Blue Devils (3-3, 1-1 ACC snapped an 11-game losing streak against their instate rival and earned their first league road win in almost six years.
“He was really special,” Cutcliffe said. “We handled their pressure, we handled their zone, and when you do that and your quarterback is as poised as Thad was tonight, good things happen.
“You know how they call that ‘in the zone?’ He was in the zone.”
It helped that Lewis and the Blue Devils were prepared for anything the Wolfpack (3-3, 0-2) might try.
“The game felt good,” Lewis said. “Coming into this game, they showed us exactly what we saw on film. … It was just go out there and play because I knew the plays we had called was fixed to beat the coverage that they were playing out there tonight.”
Lewis’ 40-for-50 passing day could have been even better had his receivers not dropped about four passes in the opening quarter. Still, they spent most of the game running free through the Wolfpack’s defense while the offensive line surrendered just two sacks against the ACC’s top sack unit.
Donovan Varner had 154 yards receiving while Conner Vernon had 10 catches and was one of five different players to catch a TD pass. The defense did its part too, hanging in after a rough start against quarterback Russell Wilson to deny the Wolfpack an offensive TD after halftime.
Duke finished with 502 total yards, converted 13 of 19 third downs and never trailed in front of N.C. State’s stunned home crowd.
It was Duke’s first ACC road win since beating North Carolina to close the 2003 regular season, ending a 20-game losing streak.