DURHAM — After Duke scored three touchdowns in a 26-second span in the fourth quarter to hand N.C. State a 38-20 loss, Wolfpack running back Shadrach Thornton was stunned. Then he was frustrated.
“Honestly, we should have won it before the fourth quarter,” Thornton said. “We had multiple times to turn turnovers into touchdowns. The fourth quarter should have been obsolete.”
N.C. State (3-6, 0-6 ACC) saw its defense pull its weight on Saturday at Duke but it wasn’t enough to spark the Wolfpack’s first ACC win of the season.
The four turnovers N.C. State’s defense produced were good for three points from the Wolfpack’s anemic offense. N.C. State has averaged 15.5 points per ACC game and still hasn’t scored three offensive touchdowns in an ACC game.
Thornton (103 yards on 26 carries) turned in his second 100-yard outing in three games but quarterbacks Brandon Mitchell and Pete Thomas combined to throw three interceptions in the fourth quarter, two of which Duke defensive back DeVon Edwards returned for touchdowns.
Throw in a 100-yard kickoff return by Edwards in the third quarter and N.C. State’s defense was on the sideline for three of Duke’s five touchdowns.
“The turnovers for touchdowns were killers,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “There’s 21 points on the board our defense was not responsible for.”
While Duke made hay with State’s mistakes, the Wolfpack couldn’t turn the gifts, three interceptions from quarterback Anthony Boone and a fumble from quarterback Brandon Connette, into anything more than a field goal.
Doeren rotated Mitchell and Thomas throughout the game, and got an 80-yard TD pass from Mitchell to receiver Quintin Payton to give the Wolfpack a brief 20-17 lead at 6:37 in the fourth quarter.
“It was looking good, it was,” said State linebacker Brandon Pittman, who finished with 14 tackles. “We knew it was going to come down to the fourth quarter and they just capitalized in the end and we didn’t.”
But Mitchell and Thomas finished a combined 13 of 33 for 248 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. For the season, N.C. State’s quarterbacks have thrown five touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
“Offensively, we’re fighting and scratching, we’re running the football and moving the football down the field,” Doeren said. “We’re just not throwing the ball well enough consistently. That hurts you, you can see that in our stats.”
The Wolfpack’s problems after Duke turnovers started early and ended poorly. After linebacker Robert Caldwell’s interception of Boone at 5:29 in the first quarter, the offense went three and out.
Safety Hakim Jones picked off Boone at the Wolfpack 33-yard line with 1:33 left in the first half. The offense went three and out again.
N.C. State’s only turnover in Duke territory ended up with a field goal. Linebacker D.J. Green intercepted Boone at Duke’s 20-yard line and returned it five yards.
The Wolfpack offense gained eight yards on seven plays and Nik Sade ended up kicking a 24-yard field goal for a brief 13-10 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Edwards went 100 yards for a touchdown for Duke.
Down 17-13, N.C. State’s defense forced a fumble by quarterback Brandon Connette, who was brought in after Boone’s third interception.
Connette ran 20 yards on a read option but had the ball knocked away on a tackle from behind from Jones at N.C. State’s 43-yard line.
After an ineligible receiver downfield penalty on first down, N.C. State’s offense again went three and out.
The Wolfpack defense could only watch as Duke’s defense produced the final 14 points on interception returns.
“It hurts losing like that,” Pittman said.