DURHAM, N.C. —DeVon Edwards turned in what his coach called a "magic night." It's a big reason why Duke is assured of a winning season for the first time in nearly two decades.
Edwards scored three touchdowns —two on interception returns in a span of 16 seconds in the fourth quarter — to help Duke beat North Carolina State 38-20 on Saturday.
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.
Duke hadn't managed a winning season since going 8-4 in 1994. Duke went winless four times and had two one-win seasons since before returning to a bowl game for the first time since '94 last year. Now the Blue Devils are bowl eligible in consecutive years for the first time in program history and taking yet another step under sixth-year coach David Cutcliffe.
Last year's team started 6-2 only to lose its last five games. This group is determined to finish strong.
"This, I hope, creates hunger," Cutcliffe said. "It's what it should do. I can't predict that, but I hope that's what it does."
Brandon Connette put Duke up for good with a 5-yard keeper with 3:31 left for a 24-20 lead. That's when Edwards put on a show, first returning an interception 25 yards for a score than following with a 45-yard TD return on consecutive passes to blow the game open.
The redshirt freshman is the first Bowl Subdivision player to score three non-offensive touchdowns in the same game since Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins returned three punts for scores against UCLA in September 2003, according to STATS LLC.
"We're not done yet through," Edwards said. "We've still got a long way to go. We're going for the ACC championship by any means, so that's our goal right now."
N.C. State (3-6, 0-6) has its worst league record since going 0-6 in 1959. The season-long offensive struggles continued, with quarterbacks Brandon Mitchell and Pete Thomas struggling through the air in error-filled performances.
"We're going to continue to work and build this football program the right way," first-year coach Dave Doeren said. "There will never be quit and I will not accept losing and neither will these guys. We're sick of it, and we're going to keep battling until we don't taste it anymore."
The Wolfpack had a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown from Rashard Smith and led briefly in the third quarter before Edwards' big return. Then N.C. State got an 80-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Quintin Payton to go back in front at 20-17 with 6:37 left.
On Payton's touchdown, Edwards had the last chance to bring him 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 interception return on the next offensive snap ensured that the Blue Devils wouldn't let this one get away.
Duke won despite having four turnovers for the second-straight game, with starting quarterback Anthony Boone throwing seven interceptions in those games. Connette took over for Boone late in the third.
"It's always whatever it takes to win a game," Connette said. "You always want to have a group of men that are willing to do whatever it takes to win a game. ... Luckily (the defense) made a couple of stops for us today. And DeVon just played great today."
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 Boone.
Shadrach Thornton ran for 103 yards to lead the Wolfpack, but Mitchell and Thomas combined to throw for 248 yards on 13-for-33 passing with three interceptions.
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 with five straight losses.
"I hadn't seen (a finish like that) in a while," linebacker Brandon Pittman said. "Probably back in middle school. But it hurts losing one like that."