DURHAM (AP) — From missed throws to turnovers, North Carolina State’s quarterback situation is in complete disarray.
Brandon Mitchell and Pete Thomas combined to throw for 248 yards on 13-for-33 passing with three interceptions in the Wolfpack’s 38-20 loss at Duke on Saturday, with two of those picks being returned for late touchdowns on consecutive offensive snaps to seal yet another loss.
Mitchell had struggled in two games since returning from a broken left foot that had sidelined him since the season opener, prompting first-year coach Dave Doeren to say he would use more of Thomas in a rotation against the Blue Devils. In the end, though, the only thing that accomplished was ensuring the mistakes weren’t limited to just Mitchell.
Mitchell threw an interception while being pulled down from behind, with Duke’s DeVon Edwards returning that one 25 yards for a touchdown to make it a two-possession game. Then Thomas came in and threw his own pick to Edwards, who returned that one 45 yards to blow the game open.
For the season, N.C. State has yet to score more than 20 points in an ACC game, while the Wolfpack has five touchdown passes with 15 interceptions on the year.
“We have great quarterbacks, and they’re going to come back and work as hard as anybody,” running back Shadrach Thornton said. “They work as hard as anybody. There’s no quit in those guys. They’re going to fix themselves and fix their mistakes just like I’m going to fix myself and fix my mistakes. It takes a team to lose and it takes a team to win.”
For Duke, Edwards finished with three touchdowns to help the Blue Devils secure their first winning season in nearly two decades.
Edwards also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown late in the third quarter for the Blue Devils (7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who went from trailing in a close game to winning in a romp with a stunning flurry of late-game touchdowns.
Brandon Connette put Duke up for good with a 5-yard keeper with 3:31 left for a 24-20 lead. Edwards took care of the rest, returning interceptions 25 yards and 45 yards on consecutive plays to blow the game open.
The Blue Devils are guaranteed of their first winning season since going 8-4 in 1994, while N.C. State (3-6, 0-6) has its worst league record since going 0-6 in 1959.
Neither team looked particularly sharp offensively in this one, combining for six interceptions and eight turnovers. In the end, Edwards’ one-man show finally gave the Blue Devils the push they needed.
The Wolfpack, struggling badly in coach Dave Doeren’s first year, got a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown from Rashard Smith to take a third-quarter lead then an 80-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Quintin Payton for a 20-17 lead with 6:37 left.
On Payton’s touchdown, Edwards had the last chance to bring Payton down, but the receiver broke free around the 10 and ran into the end zone.
Edwards got that one back, following Connette’s keeper with a terrific individual effort to tip Mitchell’s desperation pass into the air, haul it in and run it back for the 25-yard score that gave Duke a 31-20 lead. And his 45-yard return seconds later after Thomas’ interception ensured that the Blue Devils weren’t going to let this one get away.
Duke’s Jamison Crowder added seven catches for 134 yards, including a 75-yard catch in the opening quarter to set up a 4-yard touchdown keeper by Anthony Boone.
When it was over, Duke’s players jogged to the student section of Wallace Wade Stadium to celebrate while the Wolfpack walked dejectedly back to the locker room after a fifth-straight loss.
Mitchell threw for 148 yards on 7-for-18 passing with two interceptions for N.C. State, while Thornton ran for 103 yards.